Friday, October 25, 2013

Baptism: Completed Ritual or Continuing Reality?

Which do you say when asked: “I was baptized,” or “I am baptized?”  It is an interesting question.  I have heard a couple of Bible teachers recently speak of the present reality of baptism.  The idea intrigued me, because instead of viewing baptism as only a ritual that needs to be checked off of a believer's spiritual to-do list, there is a sense in which the Christian operates (or more properly should operate) with the knowledge of who he is in Christ.

I am guessing that most who follow this blog will say that they were baptized, somewhat viewing it as a steppingstone or a rung on the ladder of Christian maturity after believing on the Lord Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection on account of and for my sin.  Of course I do not disagree with the historicity of the event.  By however mode it was performed, someone baptized you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There might even be documentary evidence of a photograph, handwritten note, church roll, or baptismal certificate.  It happened, and we can look back at the occasion as having been completed: a public statement was made intending a life lived by faith in Christ.  None of this is incorrect, of course, but I wonder if there is a missed aspect relating to the present.

Paul tells us that those baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death to crucify the old and destroy the body of sin (Rom 6:3-7) with the admonition to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:11).  In other words, there is a present intention to continue in what was manifest at baptism.  Elsewhere Paul makes a similar allusion when he states:
I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20)
What had been wrought is being carried forward.  We have had the “body of flesh” removed through the circumcision that is in Christ (Col 2:11-12) and have put on Christ (Gal 3:27).

Finally, Peter makes the connection more clear when he writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).  Setting aside the question of efficacy of the baptismal rite in relation to justification, we can say the apostle offers a definite present tense to the work—baptism saves, not baptism saved—because of faith in the promise of forgiveness at baptism.  It is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  What was desired through faith in that moment of history continues on as we continue in this world.

Baptism acts as a reminder of the faith, belief, and assurance of God's promises that this is a life of faith in Christ's saving work as much as when first believing.  Something began at baptism, and what God began, he is able to complete (Phil 1:6).


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I never thought about it that way before. I guess I AM baptized!

the Old Adam said...


It's a way of life. A way of being. It (Baptism) carries us…all throughout life.

Nice work here.