“They Came Out As Christians?!”
A few years ago there was an article in the newspaper about a Baptist church near Lake Whitney that was baptizing people in the lake (“Water Rites,” Dallas Morning News, Nov. 7, 1993). People must find it interesting that some believers are baptized in a lake these days, but what struck me as interesting were two rather matter-of-fact statements made about baptism.
The newspaper said one man remembered seeing river baptisms as a boy: “He watched the men and women stand in the water, go under, and come out as Christians.” What?! “Come out as Christians”! Did he really mean to say that? (I hope that’s what he meant, because that’s exactly what New Testament teaches).
The article also explained baptism this way: “The entire body must be immersed in water. The dip backward represents the burial of Jesus; the emergence face up, the resurrection from the dead. The flowing water itself is symbolic of washing away sins.”
There’s actually quite a bit of truth in these two statements, truth that I wish more people would admit. Now, the New Testament says nothing about a backward dip or a face-up emergence or flowing water washing away sins. But it does indeed teach that baptism is a burial. In Romans 6:3-4, Paul wrote that we are (1) “baptized into Christ,” (2) “baptized into Christ’s death,” and (3) “buried with him by baptism into death.” Colossians 2:12 likewise says that we are “buried with Him in baptism.” In fact, the very word “baptize,” that is, the Greek word baptizw, actually means to immerse.
And while it’s true that baptism is a symbol (a symbol of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Romans 6:1-5), it’s also true that baptism is far more than just a symbol. In fact, Peter goes so far as to say that baptism “saves us” (1 Peter 3:21). Of course, Peter knew, as we all well understand, that we are saved by grace—it’s absurd to think that anyone deserves to go to heaven simply because someone dunked him underwater! It is obvious to even the casual Bible reader that God gives this gift of forgiveness only to the obedient. The gift of salvation is conditional upon our obedience. God insists we believe on Jesus (John 8:24; Romans 10:9-10; Hebrews 11:6), repent of our sins (Acts 17:30; Luke 5:32; 24:47; Acts 3:19; Romans 2:4), confess our faith in Jesus (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33; John 12:42-43; 1 John 4:15), and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:1-4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). All of these passages clearly teach that faith, repentance, confession and baptism are conditions for the gift of salvation.
Yes, when “men and women” are baptized, they do indeed “come out as Christians.” Paul said the same thing: we “rise to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
The new life begins when one is baptized. Why would anyone hesitate to be baptized for the remission of sins? Personally I wouldn’t want to have to explain to God why I didn’t do what He instructed in all these passages of Scripture.