August 30, 2020
Americans like options – we like choices. It’s built into our fabric – we tie it to freedom. Many can remember the, “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us,” jingle that Burger King introduced in 1974. The jingle was aimed at cutting into McDonald’s Big Mac market, which had successfully introduced “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” In response, Burger King focused on the fact that we like choices, so “Have it your way.” As I recall, they later said there was some 256 ways to order the Whopper. And yet, most of you order it the same way every time.
Sociology professor Barry Schwartz (Swarthmore College, Philadelphia) published a book in 2004 titled The Paradox of Choice. The next year, he did a Ted Talk on the subject in Oxford, England. In the talk, he said this:
“The official dogma of all western industrial societies runs like this: If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The reason for this is freedom is in an of itself good, valuable, worthwhile, essential to being human. Because if people have freedom, then each of us can act on our own to maximize our welfare, and no one has to decide on our behalf. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice.” And from that, Schwartz says, we end up with lot of options. We like options – it’s part of freedom. And so, in the book, he points out the average grocery store has:
- 285 varieties of cookies
- 85 choices of juices
- 95 varieties of chips
- 230 soups
- 120 different pasta sauces
- 275 varieties of cereals, and no matter which one you bring home, the kids want the other one
- 175 kinds of tea bags
- 100 kinds of detergent
Schwartz says the average grocery store carries 30,000 products, with 20,000 new ones arriving each year. The toothpaste aisle – notice, I said aisle – makes you dizzy. Someone has coined it consumer vertigo. We like our options.
We even like options in Christianity. For example, go to the local Christian bookstore or christianbooks.com – how many different Bibles can there possibly be? There are children’s bibles, teen bibles, student bibles, men’s bibles, women’s bibles, family bibles, reference bibles, study bibles, devotional bibles, small print, large print, pocket size, thin-line, paperback, hardback, bonded leather, genuine leather, interlinears, parallel bibles, topical bibles, one-year bibles, chronological bibles – and we haven’t even gotten to all the translations – KJV, ASV, NIV, ESV, NAS, RSV, NLT, NET, NKJ, NEB, the Phillips, etc. – too many to count. We like our Christian options.
We even like our options when it comes to church – which is why we have over 45,000 Christian denominations, and we add about five new ones a week. It’s why we have over 50 evangelical options in Watauga County alone. How many churches do we really need? Church saturation – DAWN. And yet, there’s been a new church plant in the area about every year I’ve been in Boone. We like options, and some of us pick our churches like we pick a new car – do I like the options: the color, the size, the people, the programs – programs for me, for my kids, the music (don’t get me started), the preaching, the Sunday School classes, the service schedules – and eventually I might even consider doctrine.
We’re Americans – we like options. Some of us even trade in our churches like we trade in our cars – if this one wears out or something newer and better comes along – then I’ll trade in the old one. Or, I might even drive the old one every once in awhile and try some of the newer ones – jump from place to place. You know – take ‘em for a test drive – as if we’re consumers instead of fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. And in our consumer-driven culture where marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry, the church of Jesus Christ has suffered.
We are in a study of II Peter. But, a few weeks ago, since we had not taken the Lord’s Supper in several months, I decided to take a break and teach about Communion. So also, one week from today, we will observe the second ordinance of the church – which we’ve not been able to observe in several months. So today, I want to talk to you about baptism. My hope is that some of you, as followers of Christ, who have not yet been baptized, will do so.
You see, in this time of pandemic, I’ve observed the necessity of elevating the importance of the local church – of this local church. We can define the church as a group of ones called out of this present evil age to be followers of Christ, to assemble together for specific purposes. From the Reformation on, some consistencies of our understanding of the church began to develop. Most began to agree a local church is a group of people committed to the Gospel rightly taught and where the ordinances are rightly administered. So, having looked at the Lord’s Supper, we will look at baptism today. By the way, we refer to these as ordinances in the sense that Jesus ordained the practices – He instituted them.
Now, the purpose of my introduction regarding options, as I jump into a message about baptism, is this: baptism, too, has become quite optional in the church. Not just in form – do we sprinkle, do we pour, do we immerse – do we baptize infants or do we baptize converts – do we baptize forward or backward – do we baptize in the name of Jesus or in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – do we baptize people, or do people baptize themselves – do only pastors or priests baptize, or can anyone baptize – do we baptize during the Sunday morning worship gathering that we mistakenly call church, or do we baptize at a special service – do we baptize in a baptistery or do we baptize in the river – I’ll talk about some of those options, but that’s not what I mean by options in baptism. I’m talking about whether to be baptized has become for some a choice – an option. I might get to it one day.
And yet, Jesus’ last words to His disciples in the gospel of Matthew – right before He left for heaven – were these, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” We call that the Great Commission – and most believers would say they’re all about the Great Commission, which is great. You should know the main verb in the sentence is to make disciples. That’s our job – to see people become followers of Jesus – that’s why our church mission statement is really just a summation of the Great Commission: We are called, by the grace of God for the glory of God, to become and multiply fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Now, as I suggested, the main verb of the Great Commission is to make disciples, and it is supported by three participles. There is a sense in which we can measure our success in fulfilling the Great Commission by these participles. The first of the three is to go. In other words, take the message of the gospel with you as you go wherever you go – to make disciples of the nations – to include the people around us. The second participle is baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the third participle is teaching them all the things Jesus commanded. Actually, that’s not exactly right – I left out a couple of key words. Teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded. So here are the measures – are we telling people about Jesus, are we seeing them become converts, being baptized, and are we seeing them obey or observe His teachings?
Now, this Great Commission is not a suggestion – it is a command. Go, tell them about Jesus, and as they believe, baptize them, then teach them to observe. That is the clearest definition about what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus – it’s our job description. Think of it this way:
- Going signifies Presence. We must go to where people are – that’s what Jesus did. Not only around the world, although it includes that, but next door, across the street, to the next office cubicle. We could call this going, Pre-evangelism.
- Baptizing signifies Proclamation or Persuading. It is sharing the claims of Christ with people who need to hear and seeing them converted – confessing faith in Jesus Christ. We could call that Evangelism.
- And teaching signifies Perfecting – maturing, growing in your faith. We could call that Post-evangelism.
This command is why, a few days later on the Day of Pentecost about 50 days after the resurrection, Peter preached his first message. Some call it the first message of the Christian church. The feast of Pentecost was one of those annual festivals which gathered Jews from around the world. While Jewish in ethnicity, they were of different nationalities, speaking different languages. But on that day, the Holy Spirit came and filled the disciples, just as Jesus promised. And the disciples spoke in other tongues, gathering a crowd from throughout Jerusalem. And when they arrived, each heard the wonders of God in their own language. It was at that point Peter stood and preached the gospel. He finished the message with these great words, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Well, those who heard it were pierced to the heart and said to Peter, “What shall we do?” And Peter remembered the command of Jesus from a few days before, so he said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter understood the Great Commission – once they repent, baptize them. And by the way, we see 3,000 people believed and were baptized that same day. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
So, what is this baptism? The Greek word is baptizo – and the word means to plunge, dip or immerse. For example, the word was used of dying material – you would dip or immerse the material in the dye to change its color. (Go in one color – come out another – though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.) And so, while I don’t think it’s anything to fall on your sword about, I do believe the practice is best observed by immersion – when you baptize someone, you dip or plunge them in water.
The New Testament seems to accept that understanding. For example, when people were being baptized by John the Baptist, we read in Mark 1 that they were being baptized in the Jordan River. Later in that same chapter, we read when Jesus was baptized, as He came up out of the water, the Spirit of God was seen descending on Him as a dove. In John 4, we read that John the Baptist was baptizing in Aenon, because there was much water there – kind of an interesting choice of words. And in Acts 8, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, we read they both went down into the water. So, both the meaning of the word and the clearest practice in the New Testament was that of immersion. That, by the way, is the how – some call it the mode.
But we haven’t answered the question – what is baptism, that is, what does it do besides get you wet? When we compare various passages of Scripture which speak of the practice, we arrive at the following definition: baptism is an external expression demonstrating an internal reality of faith. It is administered to those who have made a credible or believable profession of faith in Jesus Christ. It symbolizes a person’s identification with Christ and His death, burial and resurrection, and their own dying to self, being buried with Jesus and being raised to walk a new life in Christ. It also symbolizes our sins being washed away and our beginning the Christian life. I know that’s a lot, but baptism is a rich symbol. Let me share some passages with you that demonstrate these ideas:
Colossians 2:12 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (By the way, that’s another reason baptism is by immersion – as a symbol, it pictures this being buried with Christ, and being raised with Him.)
Romans 6:1-4 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Galatians 3:27 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Now, let me make this clear – baptism is not something you do in order to be saved – but it is an act of obedience by which you demonstrate/proclaim that you are saved. It is a picture of that which has already transpired in your life. There are those within the realm of Christendom who say that baptism in necessary for salvation – that it is itself redemptive (ex opere operato), a means of saving grace. But, that is not what the Scripture teaches. Rather, it is for those who have already professed faith and know Jesus as Savior.
And please notice – baptism in the New Testament is always, without exception, carried out or administered to believers – which is why we call it believer’s baptism. We’ve talked about the how – immersion. We’ve talked about the what – identifying with Christ. And now, we talk about the who: it is for those who have made a credible profession of faith. Acts 2:41 says, “those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized.” Acts 8:12 says people were being baptized when they believed Philip’s message – specifically the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is for believers. Which means, again, baptism is not administered in order to make you a Christian, but to demonstrate or picture that you are one.
Which also means this – baptism in the New Testament was always carried out on believers, not infants. I do need to talk about this a bit since many practice infant baptism today – in fact, many of you may have been baptized as infants. It’s called paedobaptism. To that, I would graciously say, we do not have one clear example of infant baptism in the New Testament. In fact, the Scripture goes out of the way to demonstrate baptism follows faith. Now, there are a few arguments for infant baptism I want to address:
First, some say household baptisms in the New Testament are an indication of infant baptism. That is, when the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, or Stephanas in I Corinthians 1 were baptized, their households were baptized as well – and that is true. But, let’s look closely at Acts 16.
Acts 16:30-34 30 and after he [that is, the jailer] brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
Do you see that? The whole household was baptized because they believed. We won’t take the time to look at it, but I Corinthians 1 does speak of the household of Stephanas being baptized, but I Corinthians 16 speaks of his household devoting themselves to the ministry of the saints. The point being, these texts goes out of the way to indicate the households were old enough to believe and serve, and therefore, old enough to be baptized.
A second argument for infant baptism is this – New Testament baptism replaces Old Testament circumcision. Baptism, it is suggested, is the sign of entering into the new covenant family. I guess I don’t have a problem with that per se – but, there is no passage which says baptism replaces circumcision, and there is only one that links it, rather loosely. It’s in Colossians 2 – look at it with me:
Colossians 2:11-12 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Yes – the words circumcision and baptism are used in successive verses. But, verse 11 doesn’t speak of a physical circumcision, but of spiritual circumcision. And please note the key words in verse 12 – buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith. Once again, we see faith is the prerequisite for baptism.
To this idea of baptism being a sign of entering the new covenant, I would say this: circumcision was a physical act demonstrating a child was born into a physical family. Faith was not necessary. Baptism is a spiritual act demonstrating someone has been born spiritually – born again – into a spiritual family. Again, I don’t have a problem seeing it as a sign or symbol of being added to the church of Jesus Christ – but it requires that you have been added – that you have believed.
Finally, on this issue of paedobaptism, some say, well of course there was only believer’s baptism in the New Testament – the practice was new. But in later generations, as believers had children, they practiced infant baptism. I have two issues with that. First, the New Testament was written over a period of several decades – certainly believers had children during that time – and yet not one time do we have the practice of infant baptism observed in the New Testament.
And second, in the Old Testament, when circumcision was instituted, it too was new. And, children and adults were circumcised. True, subsequently, any children or foreigners who came into to the covenant family were circumcised. But, there were clear instructions given to do so – to include the fact that boys were to be circumcised on the 8th day. It was very clear – there was no ambiguity. If God intended for us to baptize children, don’t you think the instruction would be given? And if baptism replaced circumcision – don’t you think the New Testament, somewhere, would say so? And don’t you think someone would have baptized a baby, unambiguously, somewhere in the New Testament?
The point is this: both the meaning of the practice, identifying by faith with Christ, and the observance of the practice in the New Testament, clearly points to believers’ baptism. You say, what if I was baptized as an infant – do I need to be baptized again? Very graciously, I would say, yes. In order to fulfill the New Testament ordinance, as a believer, you should be baptized.
Which brings me to my conclusion. It’s interesting to note in the New Testament, when people came to faith in Jesus Christ, they were baptized – most often, at that time – the very same day. We have begun a practice, I believe, that is outside the norm of the New Testament by observing baptism, is most cases, indefinitely after conversion. And in that sense, I would suggest, we’ve made it optional. Believers eventually get around to it – but some, not at all. Some of you are believers, and you’ve never been baptized. But you need to be. It is an act of obedience – a public declaration of your faith. Now, let me also say this: being baptized in this church doesn’t make you a member of this local church – I can’t really find that in the New Testament, either. But it does symbolize your entrance into the universal church of Jesus Christ. Which is why we practice baptism, publicly.
Some of you say – what about my children? They’ve made a profession of faith – should I let them be baptized? I want you to know that I’ve wrestled with that question. But I’ve come to this. If a child understands enough to know the gospel – that is, they know they’re sinners, they know that Jesus, God in the flesh, died for them and was raised from the dead – then they know enough to be baptized. You say, but, what if they’re not really Christians yet? Then they’ll just get wet. They can always be baptized again, if they later truly come to faith in Christ. The point is – Jesus commanded His followers to be baptized. And in the New Testament, people who became His followers were baptized immediately. It wasn’t optional.
So again, some of you need to be baptized. But here’s my concern. I’ve given a lecture on the topic of baptism. And it sounds, even to me, like I’m giving this sterile command – be baptized, because Jesus said so and the early church practiced it – so be baptized. I don’t want to come across that way. Rather, I want you to hear this. Jesus, the Son of God, emptied Himself of the rightful display of His glory – He left heaven’s glory for you. Jesus, the eternal Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. Because He loved us. Before you were ever born – before the creation of the world, Jesus knew you, and loved you. And He came to die for you.
He even gave us an example. He Himself, God in the flesh, was baptized. John the Baptist had enough sense to say – no way, Jesus – you should be baptizing me – not I, you. Not only that, but remember, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance – of what sin was Jesus repenting? And yet He was baptized, to fulfill all righteousness – some say as an example to all those who would be His followers.
I don’t want you to submit to the ordinance of baptism because I say so – because you have to, even though you do. I want you to be baptized because you’ve put on Christ. Because He died for you – and you desire, with all your heart, to identify with His death, burial and resurrection for you. Because you want to die with Christ, being buried with Him, and you want to rise clothed in Christ, to walk in newness of life. You want people to know – Jesus loves me, and I love Him. I’m honored to be called His child – and I want you to know I’m His follower. That’s why I want you to be baptized.
And so, if you’re here this morning and you’ve never been baptized, but you want to be, I want to strongly encourage you to do so. Going back to Barry Schwartz and The Paradox of Choice. He suggests in his book that too many choices lead to paralysis. That while we like choice, when we have choices, many often don’t make choices. If that’s you regarding baptism, I want to encourage you – the biblical option is to follow our Lord’s command and be baptized.
We have scheduled a baptism for one week from today – at 4:00 in the afternoon – in the river. I’ve talked about what baptism is, why it’s incredibly important. So now, if you’ve never been baptized, I encourage you to be baptized. All that remains is for you to share your testimony of faith with one of our pastors or elders – this week – and we will baptize you next. It is my prayer that we baptize many new believers next Sunday, and many who have biblically decided today, it is not optional.