My favorite car growing up was a Nissan Z. Of course, there were more expensive sports cars available to daydream about but the Z was something that was reasonably within reach. In 1989 Nissan featured a commercial which caused the new models to become very popular. The commercial went like this….
“So I’m having this dream, I’m in a Turbo Z. And these guys are after me.
But they can’t catch me.
So they get a…car.
But they can’t catch me.
So they get a plane.
Juuuust as they’re about to catch me, the twin…turbos…kick…in…”
I was able to drive a friend’s briefly in 1992, in California. In 2004 I bought a ’96 model. My memory of testing one in 1992 was now going to return, expand and become greater. The details of the interior and the engine which made such a unique impression returned to mind. The dash was crafted so the gauges and instruments appeared to be more of plane’s cockpit. The stick shift was optimally placed for your hand to relax next to your thigh. The seats were contoured in such a way to keep you centered while you accelerated and maneuvered around curves. The engine compartment was packed tightly so that very little space was left for mechanics’ hands to probe. The radiator, battery, stabilizer bar, intakes, belts and the powerful V6 engine all compressed against each other. While the car was visually appealing, its appearance, to many, just said “sports car.” …Those who’ve owned the car or own one today definitely have more to say about it, more of a story.
Baptism, on the surface, just says to many…”religious.” The Bible says much more about it, more of a story. Let’s get into the driver’s seat of baptism and take a closer look at the details, the gauges, and instruments surrounding us. Let’s look under its hood and examine its engine compartment to see where the power originated in the teaching the apostles gave us.
If baptism is being likened to a vehicle then where will it take us? The Bible says this in 1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism which corresponds to this now saves you-not removing filth from the flesh, but the appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Immediately we see that baptism is linked directly to the resurrection of Jesus. We see that a good conscience is in view, and that Peter says baptism saves you. Saves you from what? Would it be something connected to the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection? Of course, you and I are saved through the resurrection of Jesus. But from what are people saved? Peter says in 3:18 that Jesus suffered for sins in order that he might bring us to God. He then goes on to speak of Noah’s ark! What could all of this be about? What was the purpose of Noah’s ark? Of course, Noah was delivered from the evil generation in which he lived. God delivered him through the Flood and the ark which survived the catastrophic waters. Noah (and his family) were saved from death. So is that what baptism saves us from? Death? Yes and no. Baptism doesn’t save us from physical death but from a different kind of evil generation. Baptism saves us from our own evil, our own sin and offense toward God and others. But how can being dunked in water save us from all of that? You’re right! Being dunked in water can’t save us from anything, especially evil, even our own. Then what is Peter writing about? Does he just like to use religious words? No he doesn’t. Remember, that Peter is speaking about Jesus resurrection. Peter is speaking about the power that resurrection has for the one who believes. The power of the resurrection teaches us that physical death, caused by our sin, cannot be the end of the story for mankind. The power of the resurrection teaches us that Jesus Christ has overcome the power of sin. The power of the resurrection has the power to save mankind. Peter is speaking to fellow Israelites and they are very familiar with the imagery and stories he uses. They are very familiar with the idea of faith that Peter encourages them with as he writes. Peter is reminding them of their deliverance from the evil generation they lived. They were delivered through God’s power. Just as God was powerful in Noah’s generation by sending a flood to judge the world God is being powerful again in Peter’s generation by sending Jesus to judge the world. When an Israelite read the Psalms he/she would often hear of God described as a righteous judge. Psalm 9:4, for example, says this “For you have maintained my just cause. You have sat on your throne judging righteously.” When we hear the word judge we often think negatively. An Israelite reading the Psalms would look forward to God judging the earth with righteousness, setting things right. Jesus is that kind of judge for the world. He’s taken mankind’s deserved punishment upon himself. Peter is reminding fellow Israelites of this very thing. Peter is reminding them of how their faith in the resurrection of Jesus has delivered them, judged them righteous, through the vehicle of baptism. There’s definitely more to inform us as to why Peter thought this way.
The apostle Paul also saw baptism as a vehicle through which he became delivered from sin. Let’s first reacquaint ourselves with Paul’s conversion. In the book of Acts (chapter 9 and 22 specifically) Paul’s story was recalled by Luke, explaining that Paul was on his way to Damascus. At this time Paul wasn’t a follower of Jesus. In fact, Paul was pursuing those who were followers of Jesus in order to get rid of them. An incredible light flashed around him (9:3) and he heard a voice speaking to him. Paul recognized this voice to be Jesus’. Jesus told Paul to go into Damascus and wait. Paul was now blind. While waiting in Damascus a disciple named Ananias was sent to him and told Paul what he must do. The blindness left Paul, and he got up and was baptized and ate (9:18). More details of the story are in chapter 22. Acts 22:12-16 tell us that Ananias gave Paul his sight once again and that Ananias told Paul to get up and be baptized. “Now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Notice here that Ananias was the one who told Paul the need for baptism. Notice in Acts 9:10-16 that the Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision, instructing him as how to deal with Paul. For our discussion of baptism we see Paul needed his sins washed away. Ananias views baptism as the vehicle to get Paul from having a guilty conscience to a good conscience, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins!” Wouldn’t Paul have already had sins washed away before he met Ananias? No. Paul needed to die to his sins with Jesus.
Fortunately, Paul tells us what he thinks about this matter in several other places. Romans 6 is one of those important places. Paul saw his baptism not just as a religious act but as a watershed act. Paul equates baptism with death and resurrection of himself! How? Paul said that believers who were baptized were baptized into Jesus’ death! What does that mean? What was Jesus’ death all about? Our sins! Jesus death was a death to mankind’s sin. And, Jesus’ resurrection was a resurrection for all mankind, too. Paul said that those who were baptized were baptized into Jesus’ death, and those who were united with Jesus in death (through baptism) will also be united with Jesus in Jesus’ resurrection (6:5). Notice that the Roman believers were not regarded by Paul as having died to sin unless they had died to sin with Jesus through baptism. Paul saw baptism as the moment when his body of sin (6:6) was done away with. That body of sin was done away with when it was buried into Jesus’ death (6:3). Paul says in 6:7 that “he who has died is freed from sin.” Paul is illustrating that he was once alive but his own sin had killed him spiritually. Therefore, the command from Ananias was to be buried in baptism and wash away Paul’s sins. Paul explains In Romans 6 that he had to die with Jesus in order to be freed from sin and made alive to God. Listen to 6:8-10 “Now if we’ve died with Christ, we believe we’ll also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.”
Paul, the same apostle who’ll teach us that we’re saved by grace (Ephesians 2:5), will also teach us that baptism is a burial and resurrection in Colossians 2:12 “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Hear Paul again in his phrasing… “buried with Him…raised up with Him through faith in the working of God.” Paul death to sin is completed by burial in baptism with faith in God’s work through Jesus; through Jesus dying for sin and being raised for eternal life.
Galatians 3:26-27 “For you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Notice how Paul reminds the Galatian believers that they are sons of God through faith. Paul’s point here is that sonship comes through faith in Christ’s work versus the believers work through Judaism. Again these Galatian believers were baptized. Baptism for them wasn’t merely a symbol of being in Christ already. Baptism for them was actually a vehicle to get into Christ.
Being baptized into Christ automatically made the Galatian believers brothers and sisters with Corinthian believers. 1 Corinthians 12:13 has Paul saying this “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul explains that the vehicle which brought the Galatians into Christ also brought all believers anywhere into Christ. The Spirit of God and of Christ is the One who includes us in Christ’s body through the vehicle of baptism.
Through this vehicle believers are made to drink of one Spirit. This is reminiscent of Moses providing water from the rock for the Israelite nation. The Israelites were made to drink from one source provided by God. Acts 2 has Luke retelling the events of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension and exaltation to the throne of God (David’s promised descendant will receive that throne). Peter will say to those listening “Repent, and every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter links baptism to forgiveness and reception of the Holy Spirit. Notice Acts 5:30-32 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Consistently, we hear of how forgiveness and repentance are linked to Jesus. Here in Acts 5:32 we see Peter linking the Holy Spirit to those who are obedient. Paul will echo this same thing in his letter to the Romans in chapter 8:9-11 “However, you aren’t in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” To the Galatians he says “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by hearing with faith?” Of course (it’s a rhetorical question Paul’s asking) they received the Spirit by hearing with faith. They received it when they were clothed with Christ (3:27). They were made to drink of that one Spirit (3:27). They became sons because the Spirit was sent into their hearts (4:6). This promise of the Spirit was planned for a long time (3:13-14 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come the Gentiles (nations), so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” The blessing of Abraham (sonship, salvation and the Spirit) is found in Christ. Remember, Galatians 3:26-27 “For you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Baptism is into Christ.
Baptism is not contrary to faith but actually a way of summing up the concept of saving faith. Baptism is faith giving birth. Baptism is not a work that merits salvation from God, nor blessing, nor sonship, nor the reception of the Spirit. Baptism is a vehicle which God chooses for faith to express itself in a realistic way. Just like the building of the ark was an expression of faith “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household…” and deliverance was engineered by God through the Flood, so also Peter sees baptism as an expression of faith, and deliverance has been engineered by God through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. We wouldn’t debate whether Noah acted in faith so why should we debate whether Jesus’ command for the nations of all the world is of faith (“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:18b-19).
What a vehicle God has given for people to have assurance of the hope they’ve been given in Jesus. If you haven’t been baptized like Paul, Peter, or the many in the New Testament…what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized and wash away your sins! Or, repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you’ll also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!