Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Change and Baptism

Please let me apologize for how irregular this blog has been. It actually is extremely important to me since I am working on a book for new believers to help them begin their spiritual journey well. So your comments are especially helpful and I value your time in interacting with my work. I will get back on track, sending out a blog post every Thursday. Thank you. —Bill

We were changed in conversion, and a changed person will live a changed life, not because you have to, but because you want to. In the Bible, one of the first things people did after conversion was to announce it publicly in a ritual called “baptism.”

In the history of the church there has been a lot of arguing about baptism, and unfortunately in some cases (and fortunately in others) it has led to dissension and division; and yet we are told to be baptized and so a young Christian needs to understand what it is and what it isn’t.

From the following you will see that I believe baptism is an intentional act of a person’s faith. For those who have a different view of baptism, this blog is not for you. But if you believe in believer’s baptism, I would like to know how the following works. Does it explain baptism correctly, simply, and convincingly? Thanks.

The practice of baptism is probably the best picture of the change that happens in the life of a new believer and the newness of the path. In case you are unfamiliar with it, let me explain it briefly. Different churches do it differently, but this is what baptism looks like for the majority of believers.

After talking with your friend, mentor, pastor, or someone, he or she will go with you into the water. Perhaps it will look like a spa or pool to you, or you may be outside in a lake or river. You will be given an opportunity to publicly tell your friends who are there how you walked through the gate, what you believe, and what God did for you. This is your “testimony.“ Then your friend will take a hold of you and lower you under the water, saying something like, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (These words come from the Bible.) Then you will come out.

The act of baptism did not save you. No ritual can save you; God has already saved you. Baptism is simply the public proclamation of what God has already done when you walked through the gate. Baptism is not an act of salvation; it is an act of obedience. Jesus calls all believers to take a public stand. In the Bible people used to be baptized as soon as they walked through the gate. Because the two events were so close in time, they were seen as a single event and the imagery of baptism could be used to describe what happens in conversion.

This is the background of a famous passage in the Bible. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, and he says these words.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:1-4, NIV).

Paul is discussing the topic of ongoing sin in the life of a follower of Jesus. He asks the rhetorical question, should we keep sinning so that by grace God will continue to forgive us? Absolutely not. And then he states the essence of our conversion/baptism experience. We have died to sin. It doesn’t make any sense to think that we can continue to live in sin. What does it mean to “die to sin”?

When you go under the water in your baptism, it signifies that your sins have been washed away. I once baptized a friend of mine, and she asked me to hold her under the water an especially long time. “Why?“ I asked. “Because I have sinned a lot, and Jesus has a lot to forgive.” My friend knew that her sins weren’t being forgiven by the water, but she understood the power of the symbolism. (Later on the afternoon, another person who I did not know asked me if I held everyone down that long! I assured him that I did not. As I recalled, I held her down until I saw bubbles escaping from her nose; it was time to let her up.)

But the symbolism of baptism is more than just forgiveness. When we became followers of Jesus, we were in some way mystically joined to Christ. Paul calls this being “in Christ.” This is also symbolized in baptism. When we are lowered under the water, we are saying that we have died with Christ, that his death in some way has become our death. And just as Christ was raised from the grave to a new kind of life, a life that has gained victory over sin and death, so also as we come out of the water, as we start to walk down the path of discipleship, we too are raised to a new kind of life. Specifically, a life in which ongoing sin has no place.

Baptism is a wonderful proclamation for all to hear that Jesus changed my heart, and now as a changed person I am walking down a different path. This is something all new believers are called to do.


Bill, You state - "yet we are told to be baptized" What text is it in which we are "told to be baptized"? Greg

The clearest is the Great Commission, Matt Matt. 28:19.. It is the pattern of the early church, school as Acts 2:38.

Hello Bill, What if salvation occurred at baptism as opposed to prior to baptism? Stephane

Then Christian doctrine becomes something totally different and salvation is no longer by grace but by works. It would not be about a relationship with God but a ritual.

Why is baptism emphasized so much in the NT…and especially after hearing the gospel? “What shall we do to be saved?” Baptism in and of itself cannot and does not save anyone. Being baptized does not mean you will be saved later. Being baptized does not mean that you are saved. But, not being baptized may mean that you aren’t saved. There’s some greater purpose to baptism than just public testimony. SOMETHING HAPPENS AT BAPTISM. I’m convinced by the NT (many passages, you can search them out) that something spiritual happens at baptism, but it’s not because of the act of baptism. In the end, it is at baptism where we truly exercise our faith. As I see it, baptism is where faith and the Spirit collide. -Chris

I have found a paper by Robert Stein to be immensely helpful in sorting out the relationship in the NT between baptism and salvation. If you have not yet read it, I comment it for your consideration: Here is Stein's thesis: "In the New Testament, conversion involves five integrally related components or aspects, all of which took place at the same time, usually on the same day. These five components are repentance, faith, and confession by the individual, regeneration, or the giving of the Holy Spirit by God, and baptism by representatives of the Christian community." Much of the paper presents detailed exegesis proving this thesis. Later: "Because the New Testament presents all five of these components as integrally related, it can state that any one of them results in salvation. It can say that faith, repentance, confessing Christ, being born again, or baptism results in justification." However: "Was baptism necessary for salvation in the New Testament? Is baptism necessary for salvation today? These two questions must be answered separately... To refuse baptism in the first century was to refuse consciously and willingly what God said should and needed to be done. Such rebellion was damnable. Today a person may refuse baptism out of confusion, ignorance, or uncertainty, but in the first century such confusion and ignorance did not exist. Decisions concerning baptism today are often made not on the basis of obedience or disobedience but on the basis or misinformation or confusion." Yet: "Baptist theology also deviates from the New Testament pattern. Although repentance, faith, confession, and regeneration are associated with baptism, baptism is separated in time from these four components. Thus baptism is an act which witnesses to a prior experience of repentance, faith, confession, and regeneration. As a result such passages as Romans 6:4, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5, John 3:3ff., and others, which associate baptism with the experience of conversion, are embarrassing to many Baptists and often receive a strained exegesis at their hands." Stein also creatively includes an "interview" with a first-century convert and a allegory of "the ring" to bring the implications of his study home to his readers. Highly recommended!

Yes, I agree with your writings here about baptism. "Specifically, a life in which ongoing sin has no place." Regarding this statement, while sin has no place, we continue to sin. However, we no longer "practice" sin as 1 John makes clear.

"Then Christian doctrine becomes something totally different and salvation is no longer by grace but by works. It would not be about a relationship with God but a ritual." If that was true, wouldn't that also make a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart a ritual? I agree with much of what you said above, but the tired American evangelical idea that any significance for baptism outside of a spiritual object lesson would somehow advocate salvation by works is a straw man argument. Most Christian streams outside the West, both current and historic, view baptism as the point a person goes from a 'non-Christian' to a Christian. To suggest that every denomination in Africa that believes a person becomes a Christain at baptism is 'really preaching works righteousness' doesn't seem to pan out. Personally, I think baptism can be a wonderful point of conversion/salvation. I see baptism as a passive action of allowing and accepting, rather than as a 'good work' or ritual a person does. Baptism is the embodiment of what Mary said, "Let it be done to me according to your word." It is a passive verb, not an active verb. One cannot 'do the action of baptizing' for salvation. Baptism is something that a person can allow to be done to them. I'm sure there are denominations out there that preach a ritual & works based version of salvation that use baptism as a ritual, but that doesn't mean we should be so quick to dismiss so much of church history and global practice aside.

Bill, I find this topic quite controversial as I have quieried other ordained ministers: Presbyterian; Church of the Brethren; UCC; elders & deacons. The general consensus seems to be that it is a personal and/or parental decision as to whether to baptize by sprinkling or immersion. The exception seems to be with the Church of the Brethren as my inquiry therein supported only full immersion. Also, there is "confusion?" within these denominations as to whether there is significance in being baptized a second time since the first one took place while the said individual was an infant or youngster who submitted to parental decision. Please clarify. Thank you.

Hi Bill. When Romans 6 says "Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" and goes on to say "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life”" is it not pointing to something more than water baptism? All who receive water baptism are not necessarily buried with Christ, or raised with him. Only those who believe are...and before they are baptized. Some can claim belief but not truly believe. Do the Romans verses not refer to the baptism which is done by the Spirit to all who believe, making they part of the body of Christ, the church, as in "For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."? Luke 3:16 “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Thank you.

Hello, I appreciate you writing about this topic. However, I need help understanding how 1 Peter 3:21 fits into your view. I understand that we cannot earn our salvation and faith is important. Then why would Peter say "baptism now saves you" if it were mere ritual? I appreciate your time and insight!

Yes yes yes Brother Amen!

Bill, It seems throughout the Acts and the epistles that believers are said to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, do you think it would be appropriate for us to do the same? Also, do you think that the church in some cases has overemphasized that as you say "The act of baptism did not save you." at the expense of underemphasizing that the Bible commands us to be baptized? It also seems that in the epistles that the writers assume that believers have been baptized. Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that baptism saves, It just seems that to avoid falling off one side of the horse, we have fell off the other. What are your thoughts on how we might maintain balance, affirm what scripture says about baptism without going farther than the Word allows at the same time not stopping short of scripture either? Thank you for all that you have done and are doing for the church!

Bill Beautifully stated, clearly enunciated, biblically correct, and easy for class 101 to understand. Well done! Bruce Prince

Thank you for this! This is s doctrine that needs to be seriously understood. My question is this: can one be “born again” at salvation by believing and be sealed, without being baptized or without making confession public? Is there “conversion” without Baptism? A dying to our flesh with Jesus/dying with Christ? Rather just believing and escaping hell through Christ’s work on the cross without following Him? And would that be the “once saved always saved”? Or does the Baptism seal your belief of Christ work on the cross?

Hi Bill. Does baptism symbolize the death (or removal) of the sin nature we inherited from Adam? When we receive Christ as Lord and Savior, is our "original sin" removed and replaced with a new nature? I know baptism symbolizes the death of "...our old self" (Romans 6:6 ESV). Is the "old self" the same as the original sin nature that we inherited from Adam? Thank you! --Tom

Bill I fully believe faith and faith alone. However would you share your thoughts on the Holy Spirit's thinking with Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16 and Mark 16:16 all seemingly tying baptism to sin removal?

The word "baptize" is a transliteration of a word that just means "immerse." No thanks to the Roman Catholic Church and St. Jerome, it got transliterated, creating a new Latin religious word, baptizo, instead of translated, which would have been immergo, mergo, etc. in Latin. Search the Latin literature (such as the Perseus digital archives) and you will not find the Latin word baptizo before then. And no thanks to Wycliffe, who didn't know Greek, it got transliterated again into English. Mark 7:4 and Luke 11:38 prove that it doesn't automatically mean "religious initiation rite," since people certainly didn't get "baptized," as we understand the word in English, before every mealtime, though that Greek word is used there as well. Context must determine into what something is "immersed," and why, just like in English. To get to the bottom of this, at one point I immersed myself (pun intended) into this subject and resolved it. In Acts 2:38, everyone is missing it, debating what kind of "for" εις means, when if they would just take the simplest approach and translate it "into," as it literally, geometrically means, then the meaning becomes clear: "Be immersed into forgiveness of sins." No, it does not say "in water." The scripture doesn't say εν υδατι ("in water"). The Jews, who had, up to this point, εβαπτισαντο εις τον μωυσην ("immersed ['themselves' - middle voice] into [the] Moses" (1 Cor 10:2) ever since the time of Moses, were asking, "What shall we do?" in the last four words before Acts 2:38. Now, here is Peter's answer. Not "do," such as "Law of Moses" rules, regulations, ceremonial observances, and other things to reveal more sin, but the blood of Jesus that pays for sins, so that one may "be immersed into pardon of sins" instead. Yes, we also immerse in water as a sacrament, the physical being closely identified as a type and representation of the spiritual reality. Everyone should recognize this as well, and do it. But that is not what Acts 2:38 recites. Also, regardless of whether you assume Matt 28:19 as εν υδατι (in water) or εις το ονομα ("into the name..."), or both, Matt 28:19 recites that the command is given to the disciple-maker to make disciples and immerse (active voice), not the one being discipled to get discipled and be immersed (passive voice). The protestant reformation seems to have swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme, totally flipping the sole responsibility to the one being discipled to get immersed, certainly in reaction to the Roman Catholic dogma, error, and practice, which ended up "baptizing" babies based on the initiative of the parents without the baby having a clue what was going on. But the commission Jesus left us with is fundamentally to "make disciples," not "get discipled," and to "immerse," not "get immersed."

Hi Bill, thanks for the article on baptism. Doesn't 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism save?