THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NAME OF JESUS IN WATER BAPTISM

By David K. Bernard


The Book of Acts establishes that the apostles and the early church consistently baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This pattern is the norm for the church today.

It is our responsibility to obey the commands and examples in Bible regardless of whether we understand the reasons for this practice or the importance of it. Obedience is the only course open to us if we truly accept the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice and if we truly desire to make Jesus the Lord of all of our life, including our thoughts, values, beliefs, and practices.

Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is not an arbitrary practice, however. Using the name of Jesus in baptism is inextricably linked with the very purpose of baptism itself. All the reasons for being baptized in water are also reasons for invoking the name of Jesus at baptism. If someone wishes to be baptized but refuses the invocation of the name of Jesus, he has not fully grasped the reasons why he should be baptized. Let us examine these reasons.

1. As a minimum, all groups in Christendom agree that the purpose of water baptism is to express faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. When the listeners on the Day of Pentecost accepted Jesus as Lord and Messiah, they were baptized (Acts 2:36-38,41). When the Samaritans "believed Philip preaching . . . concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized" Acts 8:12). When the disciples of John at Ephesus heard that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist, they were baptized (Acts 19:4-5). When the Corinthians "believed on the Lord," they were baptized (Acts 8:8).

The proper way to express faith in Jesus is to confess His name. In each of the cases just cited, the candidates expressed their faith in Jesus by being baptized in the name of Jesus. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; I Corinthians 1:13.)

2. Baptism is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), or to "wash away . . . sins" (Acts 22:16), and the name of Jesus is the only name given for remission of sins. "Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). Thus the proper way to seek remission of sins at baptism is to invoke the name of Jesus in faith. Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 not only connect remission of sins with water baptism, but they specifically connect remission of sins with water baptism in the name of Jesus.

3. Baptism is part of our salvation experience (Mark 16:16; I Peter 3:21), and the name of Jesus is the only name given for salvation. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" Acts 4:12). (See also Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9,13.) Thus the proper way to integrate water baptism with New Testament salvation is to invoke the name of Jesus.

4. Baptism is a burial with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2: 12). The Spirit of God did not die for us; only Jesus the man died for us and was buried in the tomb. To be buried with Jesus Christ, we should be baptized in His name.

5. Baptism is part of our personal identification with Jesus Christ. "So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3). "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). If we seek to be identified with Him, we should take on His name.

6. Baptism is part of the new birth by which we are born into the spiritual family of God (John 1:5; Titus 3:5). We can also view the conversion experience, of which baptism is a part, as an adoption into the spiritual family of God (Romans 8:15-16). A newly born or adopted child always takes on the name of his new family. Since we seek to enter into the church of Jesus Christ, which is called His body and His bride, we should take on His name. (See Ephesians 5:23, 29-32.)

7. Baptism is part of our spiritual circumcision, or initiation into the new covenant (Colossians 2:11-13) . Under the old covenant a male child officially received his name at his physical circumcision. (See Luke 2:21.) Water baptism is the time when our new family name is invoked upon us at our spiritual circumcision.

In connection with the last two points, we know that the identifying name of our new spiritual family is Jesus, for at least two reasons. First, it is the only name in which we can receive salvation. (See John 14:6; Acts 4:12.) Second, it is the supreme name by which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

Colossians 3:17 says, "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." This verse does not require us to pronounce the name of Jesus orally before every activity, but it deals with the attitude in which we conduct every activity.

All our words and actions should be consistent with the invocation of Jesus as Lord. When there is cause to invoke God's name formally, such as at water baptism, which is both word and deed, this verse applies in a specific way, telling us to approach God in the name of the Lord Jesus. Just as we pray, lay hands on the sick, and cast out demons in the name Jesus, so we should baptize in the name of Jesus.

Using the name of Jesus in the baptismal formula expresses faith

* in the person of Christ (who he really is);

* the work of Christ (His death, burial, and resurrection for our salvation); and * the power and authority of Christ (His ability to save us by Himself).

In short, baptism in the name of Jesus signifies that we trust in Jesus alone as our Savior, and thus it expresses the essence of saving faith. Since the only one who can take away sins is Jesus-not us by our deeds, not the water, and not the preacher-we call upon Him in faith, depending on Him to do the work.

The Bible teaches that everyone should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and it reveals that every reason for baptism is specifically a reason for baptism in the name of Jesus. Thus baptism in the name of Jesus demonstrates reverence for and obedience to the Word of God over and above human tradition, convenience, or peer pressure.

In view of the scriptural significance of the name of Jesus, why should anyone refuse to be baptized in Jesus' name? Why would anyone hesitate to take on the name of the One who died for us and to identify publicly with Him? Why would anyone reject the only saving name, the name that is above every name?

(The above material was published by the PENTECOSTAL HERALD, August 1993)

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