By Neal Griffin
Water baptism is not the baptism of Jesus---the baptism that now saves us. In Acts 11:16 it is written: "Jesus said John immersed in water but you will be immersed in the Holy Spirit". "But", is a word of contrast. Water baptism is here contrasted with a different baptism so the baptism that now saves cannot possibly be water baptism. The baptism of Jesus is Holy Spirit baptism which I believe to be the new birth that He described to Nicodemus. It cannot be seen. Water baptism can be seen. It, like physical birth, cannot be effected by the person being born. Water baptism can be effected by man.
Water is not always the element of Scriptural baptism. Jesus referred to His baptism in death. Matthew 20:22. Peter referred to Noah's baptism, and Paul referred to the baptism of the fathers in the cloud and in the sea but none of them ever came in contact with the water. As a matter of fact, they were shielded from the water. Theirs was an immersion but not an immersion in water. It was a deliverance, and "in a like manner" it is the Holy Spirit Who now delivers us from a perverse generation. So the obvious conclusion is that when Peter wrote "in a like manner" he had no reference to water baptism. In whatever manner the Holy Spirit delivered Noah from a perverse generation He now delivers us. These passages indicate that "immersion" sometimes has a broader meaning. It can mean "to be swallowed up in", "to be overshadowed in", or "to be overwhelmed in". It is circumcision of the heart performed by the Holy Spirit that now removes us from an evil generation.
It is the will of God that no flesh shall be saved through deeds of the flesh. Salvation is not of man. Matthew 19:26. It is of God altogether. It is His free gift---unmerited favor. Obedience and good works are the result of Christ living in us. Neither of them causes salvation and so it is with water immersion and all other efforts at obedience (law keeping). We are immersed in water for the same reasons we should submit to all of the King's wishes. We submit to Him because He is our Father, because we are His children, and not in order to become His children. We are righteous because He has declared us righteous. Romans 5:9. Our righteousness is from above. Philippians 3:9. We are made righteous. We are the new creation of God. 2'nd Corinthians 5:17. Our righteousness is a gift from God. Romans 5:17. It is the goodness of God that should be emphasized and not the goodness of men. Our only ground for boasting is in Christ Jesus. If water baptism (an act performed by man) doth now save us, then we have somewhat of which to boast.
The only passage where man's participation in salvation is addressed is Matthew 19:16-26. The rich young ruler came asking the very question: "What can I do to gain salvation?" If God intended for man to "gain" salvation on his own part, wouldn't this have been the perfect place for Him to have commanded it? Instead, Jesus told them that it is "impossible" on the part of man. Matthew 19:26.
The idea that water baptism saves cannot be resolved with the Bible truths that salvation and righteousness are free gifts. One does not earn nor can he pay for a "free" gift and it is an insult to our Divine Host when we try to pay Him for it. In truth we have nothing of comparable value to offer. It is ours to accept His gracious gift with humility for our righteousness comes up so terribly short that it is described as "filthy rags". When man lays down a hard and fast rule that man must gain salvation by the performance of a ritual and declares that the ritual is essential to salvation he is in effect denying all of the above principles. It is not reasonable that Jesus would "wipe out the handwriting of requirements" (Colossians 2:14) and then impose a new requirement. The law that He did impose is that we love one another and carry one another's burdens. His requirements are written on the hearts of His disciples. His New Covenant calls for heart rendered obedience and not for a legalistic attitude toward law keeping.
Stubborn men on both sides of this issue hold fast to their positions. On both sides are men who place such importance on their conclusions that any who disagree with them are called "false teachers". This scenario is at the heart of every schism in the body. Is Christ divided? Is God the author of confusion? No, a thousand times, "NO". Men are the authors of confusion when they elevate their conclusions, in matters where God has not chosen to make Himself clear, to Gospel status and insist on compliance.
This might appear that I am advocating universal salvation, but not so. What I am advocating is that we accept on another according to Scriptural guidelines. Brethren should accept one another "as Christ accepted us, to the glory of God". Romans 15:7. And since we were not in complete agreement when he accepted us, it would behoove us to allow for some disagreement among ourselves. We should not allow our imagined brilliance to cause us to look down on others for whom Jesus died. We should not allow our conclusions to cause us to reject any whom God has accepted.
On this point He has made Himself perfectly clear: We are to accept one another "as Christ accepted us", and the issue of water baptism is not listed in the Scriptural exceptions which are: Moral turpitude, which includes unwillingness to work; Denial of the deity of Jesus; and Divisiveness. See 1'st Corinthians 5:11, 2'nd John 10, and Titus 3:10.
There is a simple test to to determine whether or not someone is of God. It is 1'st John 4:1-3, and if one is of God we certainly don't have any business rejecting him unless he is guilty of the exceptions listed above. But somehow brethren have devoured one another over such issues as the baptismal formula, cups, instruments, institutional involvement, tongue speaking, the 70 A.D.issue, premillennialism, women speaking, head covers, and at least one hundred other such issues. The pathetic aspect of this is that if one were to lump every last word about all of these issues together it would not fill a single page of Scripture, and yet countless sermons and debates are staged over them by brethren who insist on compliance with their conclusions in such matters. They make of themselves legislators of law. They teach for doctrine the commandments of men. Judge ye whether God looks with favor on those who would usurp His position!
I pray that you will give prayerful consideration to these thoughts. I believe them to be in keeping with the Word.
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