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According to this belief, baptism is a the means by which God conveys grace. By undergoing this rite, the person baptized received receives remission of sins, and is regenerated or given a new nature and an awakened or strengthened faith. Both Roman Catholics and Lutherans have this view of the nature of baptism, born of their interpretation of John 3:5.
The traditional Roman Catholic belief emphasizes the rite itself-that the power to convey grace is contained within administration of the sacrament of baptism. The Lutheran view concentrates on the faith that is present in the person being baptized; awakened by faith due to the preaching of the Word of God.
THE COVENANTAL VIEW
Some other Christian groups view baptism as a sign and a seal of God’s covenant, or God’s pledge to save mankind. That is, because of what He had done and what He has promised. God forgives and regenerates. Thus, on the one hand, baptism is a sign of covenant; it is the means by which people enter into that covenant and its benefits are obtained. In the covenantal view, baptism serves the same purpose for New Testament believers that circumcision did for Old Testament believers, these two procedures being linked in Colossians 2:11-12.
THE DYNAMIC VIEW
Increasing numbers of Christians see the elements of truth on other viewpoints, but find their focus on the power inherent in the Holy Spirit’s presence at baptism. While repentance and faith precede the moment, and new birth has been experienced, water baptism is seen as a moment (1) at which a breaking of past bonds to sin may be severed, as Israel’s oppressors were defeated – 1 Cor.10:2; (2) when a commitment to separate from the past life of carnal indulgence is made, as circumcision symbolizes – Col 2:11-15; and (3) when the fullness or overflowing of the Holy Spirit’s power for witness and ministering (Acts 2:38,39). This position sees baptism as both a witness and as an encounter. It is symbolic (burial to the past – Romans6:3-4) but it is also releasing and empowering for the future.
THE BELIEVER’S BAPTISM
Those who hold to this view believe that baptism should be restricted to those who actually exercise faith. This approach excludes babies and infants, who could not possibly have such faith, but in many cases receives children. The proper candidates for baptism are those who already have experienced the new birth on the basis of their personal faith and who gives evidence of this salvation in their lives.
Baptism of Jesus
We will quote the passage referring to being baptized unto the death of Jesus Christ in full. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid (or, by no means). How shall we that are dead (or, have died) to sin live any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:1-5).
Here all would seem to be simple; but alas, even over so clear a Scripture there has been much conflict of opinion. The doctrine of grace shows that a man is “justified by faith without (or apart from) the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28), with the additional teaching of the change of Headship, from Adam to Christ (Romans 5:12-21); that “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience (unto death) of one shall many be made righteous” (ver.19), might lead some one to ask: “If all be of grace why not indulge myself as I please? “The greater my sin, the greater grace that will bring me through”. For answer, the apostle makes an appeal to the foundation truth symbolized in baptism at the very beginning of the Christian course.
“By no means, he exclaims: “We died to sin,” i.e., died out from under its dominion, because Christ with Whom we are now identified died to it (ver.10). It must then no longer control us. We are not to live in that to which we died. Was not our baptism a burial unto His death? Did it not say we had died with Him and were buried with Him? Know ye not that so many of us as were immersed unto Jesus Christ were immersed unto His death? Here definite knowledge is connected with the ceremony – “Know ye not?” They should have been aware of this at that time. He is surprised at the ignorance of any among them who does not realize that his former condition is over forever.
In baptism I own that in myself I have no hope. Death is my portion. But Christ has died, and that for me His death is my only ground of confidence. Therefore, I am buried to it. But it’s not all. His death is my death. I died with Him. All that I was by nature God dealt with judicially in the cross of Christ. So having died it is right that I should be buried. My old condition is at an end, and of this the watery grave is witness.
It is not, of course, that the un-immersed are not buried with Christ, if believers. All such believers have died with Him, and raised rose with Him. But baptism is of course, the outward acknowledgement of this, “the likeness”.
Faith says, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Baptism is the confession of burial with Him. Henceforth “I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me;” or, as we have it in the chapter before us, “Like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in the newness of life”.
If sin would seek to control me, I am to the point back to the grave and say, I was buried there. I died with Christ from under your authority. You cannot expect my service this side of the tomb. I am a resurrection man. Baptism has outwardly separated me from your sphere.
In Colossians, the same truth is enforced, more briefly yet with perhaps added pungency. “In Whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcised made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye were raised together with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, Who hath raised Him from the dead” (2:11,12).
Here it is clearly taken for granted that all who are rightly subjects of baptism have been raised with Christ “through the inwrought faith of God”, as some would translate it. Not that this is true of all the baptized, but it is God’s order – not man’s confusion – that is in view. According to the divine pattern, the baptized are a company of people who are actually circumcised with the circumcision made without hands – that is, have seen the end of the flesh (as before God) in the cross, and now stand on resurrection ground.
Circumcision was a cutting off of the flesh. But Christ was cut off for me. So the flesh is gone in God’s viewpoint. I died when Christ died, and so I have been circumcised in His death. As to baptism and circumcision viewed as one ordinance succeeding the other, it is enough to say that of old, a natural-born Israelite was to be circumcised the eight day; in the present dispensation the one who, by new birth, is brought into God’s family, is to be baptized. There is a similar thought in Peter’s first letter. Commenting on the typical aspect of Noah’s deliverance through water (saved by the waves of judgment which, while they overwhelmed the ungodly, carried him and his over to a new earth) he says: “The like figure (antitype) whereunto baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer (demand) of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
Noah saved through the flood of wrath in the ark shadows forth the believer’s sure deliverance from judgment, as baptism clearly expresses, i.e., salvation by the work of Christ. He endured all the curse, even as the ark bore all brunt of the storm; but the believer can say, ”His death was mine.” It is not to baptism that any efficacy attaches; that could only put away outward filth. There is not the slightest justification here for the ritualistic dogma of baptismal regeneration. The only thing that gives the answer which a good conscience demands is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. That apprehended baptism is full of meaning. “He was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25).