Monday, December 24, 2007

Baptized at Birth?

The Bible teaches salvation comes by faith alone. Over the centuries, some have attempted to add specious requirements to God’s plan of salvation, apparently in an effort to earn their justification. But it cannot be earned, for no man has the ability to pay the penalty for his own sin, & payment for sin is required before justification can take place. Therefore, the free gift of salvation is impossible with men; it is possible only with God (Matt. 19:25-26, Rom. 4:5). These deceivers, who disparage Christ when they claim that faith in His perfect & complete work is not enough, use snippets of Scripture, like “unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” to teach falsehoods- in this case that water baptism is a pre-requisite of salvation. I shall endeavor to show this interpretation to be contextually inaccurate.

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:1-8

It is Nicodemus who broaches the subject of the “mother’s womb” & it was common knowledge even in that day that this was a watery place. Jesus was well known for using the observable natural as a point of comparison for the unobservable spiritual & this is exactly what He was doing. He took the stated point given by Nicodemus & used it to explain the mystery of the unnatural birth of the Holy Spirit.

Just as some Gentiles try to add water baptism to the Lord’s simple command of faith in Him alone as salvific, Paul battled Jews who were doing the same with the Law, specifically circumcision. The Apostle repudiates those who would try to add the works of the Law to the Gospel’s one & only law of faith in Christ as follows:

“As many as desire to look good in the flesh, they compel you to be circumcised; only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even they who receive circumcision don’t keep the law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Gal. 6:12-15

Throughout the Old Testament, physical circumcision is demanded of all who claim to follow the Jewish faith, but both Testaments require the more profound spiritual circumcision of the heart (Deu. 10:16, Rom. 2:29). The same holds true for baptism; while the outer physical sign is demanded of those who profess faith in Christ, it is the inner washing that is the truest witness of a bona fide believer. The outer sign is demanded only to illustrate & exhibit the actual salvation within. Does anyone truly believe Paul is speaking only of the physical baptism experience in Romans 6? No, he does as Jesus did in our opening text & uses the physical experience to illustrate the true work accomplished by God alone in the depths of the human soul.

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed(1) with pure water.” Hebrews 10:22

(1)Wash- Louo (loo'-o); Verb, Strong’s #: 3068
-to bathe or wash a dead person

“He who believes and is baptized(2) will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

Jesus seems to say that water baptism is a pre-requisite to salvation in the first half of this verse, but the fact that it’s not mentioned as sign of the condemned alludes to the more weighty type of washing that He demands. All are either saved or condemned; there is no middle ground for the unbaptized believer, therefore the call is to be spiritually baptized of the heart.

This is the type of baptism that is directly linked to belief, as both are of the heart. Belief, or the lack thereof, is the only constant of both groups (the saved & the condemned). With this understanding, I say that all that required to be saved is to believe to the point that one is converted. This conversion experience (the spiritual baptism) is pre-requisite, but it is actually part & parcel of faith, for true conversion to Christ can only come through sincere belief. The natural water baptism is post-requisite to justification as a sign to all of the inner experience.

Thus, this order shows baptism is not an outer experience moving inward, but an inner experience moving outward.

Strong's sums the idea of the “spiritual baptism” well by the definition of the Greek word used for “baptized” in Mark 16:16.

(2)Baptize- Baptizo (bap-tid'-zo); Word Origin: Greek, Strong’s #: 907
1. to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
2. to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe
3. to overwhelm

“Not to be confused with Strong’s #911- “bapto”. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptized' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution.
But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. 'He that believes and is baptized shall be saved'- Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!” - James Montgomery Boice

There is a second underlying truth in the John 3 analogy of explaining the spiritual birth by way of the natural birth. As I was saying, the spiritual birth is a work wrought within the human soul fully by God alone- specifically His Spirit. This gives greater insight to the full meaning of Jesus’ statements of the Spirit being Living Water; for just as the natural birth cannot occur without the natural water, spiritual life is impossible apart the watery womb that God’s Spirit forms within the heart as He prepares it for the “born again” experience Jesus speaks of & His cross made possible.


Even So... said...

I really like the pickle analogy...

Zoarean's Purse said...

Thanks JD; I think there will be second part to it at Diamond Ridge next time.