Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"Baptized Into Christ Jesus"
(Baptism Service, delivered Sunday, June 16, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
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It's our privilege this morning to witness a baptism. It should always be considered an important event whenever a baptism occurs; and in our church family, we DO consider it important. In fact, we consider it a great cause for celebration. Not everyone, however, understands what baptism is all about. That's why I have drawn your attention to this morning's passage from Paul's letter to the Romans. I believe it describes for us, better than any other passage I know, what baptism is intended to symbolize.
In our church family, we believe that baptism is an "ordinance". "Ordinance" is a word we use to describe a ceremony that Jesus commanded His church to observe on a regular basis; and because our observance of this ceremony is the keeping of His command, we therefore call it an "ordinance". There are, of course, many things that Jesus has commanded us to do; but we are a part of that tradition in Christianity that reserve the name "ordinance" for only two things: the communion meal (or "the Lord's supper" as we often call it), and baptism.
Let's consider the ordinance called "communion" for a moment. On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus commanded us to commemorate His sacrifice on the cross for us through the communion meal. The bread, He taught, was a symbol of His crucified body (Luke 22:19); and the cup was a symbol of His shed blood (v. 20). "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup," Paul wrote, "you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).
Many have taught that the communion meal should be viewed, not merely as an "ordinance", but as a "sacrament"; that is, as a religious practice or ritual that actually conveys God's grace to those who participate in it. The Bible teaches us, however, that the means by which we receive God's saving grace is through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9); and so, we believe that the communion meal should be viewed strictly as a symbol. It's a very important, very sacred symbol, because it's intended to remind us of the true object of saving faith - that is, the precious body and blood of Jesus sacrificed for us on the cross. But as important as it is, it's only a symbol.
Understood in this way, then, our participation in the communion meal doesn't save us or impart any new spiritual power to us. We're only saved by what Jesus has done for us, and through our faith in that sacrifice. And so, for that reason, we prefer the name "ordinance" over "sacrament" to describe the communion meal.
Jesus also gave a second ordinance after He died on the cross and rose from the dead, and just before He ascended to the Father. He told His disciples, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:17-20).
Again, many in the history of the church have taught that baptism should be viewed as a "sacrament" that conveys God's grace to the one who receives it. But because we maintain that we are only saved by God's grace through our faith in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, we - again - prefer to call baptism an "ordinance" rather than a "sacrament".
Baptism, then - like the communion meal - is a symbol of a spiritual reality. It isn't the "spiritual reality" itself, but rather the symbol that Jesus has commanded us to use to picture the reality. No one has ever been saved by the act of baptized in a church. People are saved ONLY through their faith in Jesus; and that salvation through faith is publically testified to, according to Jesus' command, through baptism.
To put it another way; we don't baptize someone in the church order for them to become saved; but rather, we baptize them in order for them to publically testify - and for the church family as a whole to recognize - that they have been saved already through their faith in Jesus. Baptism is a physical symbol of a spiritual reality.
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I've spent a little time at the beginning to explaining all this, because I know that some of you are new to our church family or are visiting us for the first time today. I thought that it would be very helpful for you if I explained the significance we believe God has placed on this very important "ordinance" that we're about to observe.
Baptism isn't always treated with the reverence it deserves. Some people treat it as simply a way to join a church. Others treat it merely as a ceremony that's a part of growing up in one's heritage or culture. But baptism, rightly understood, really tells the story of God's work of redemption through the gospel; and depicts for us the very essence of genuine Christian faith. The spiritual reality that stands behind baptism is what makes the difference between the Christian faith being something real and life-transforming, or something that's dissatisfying and meaningless. You could rightly say that the spiritual reality behind baptism is what makes the difference between someone being truly saved or truly lost.
You see; the Bible teaches us that salvation is something that everyone in this room this morning needs. In fact, we believe that it's something that everyone in the whole world needs. A few verses before our passage this morning, we read some very bad news: Everyone who is born into the human family is born a sinner. Our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden; and their sin brought the curse of sin on everyone who was born from them. Paul wrote that "... just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned -" (Rom. 5:12).
Whenever I read this passage, I think of those Russian wooden dolls that you can buy in a gift shop. A big doll, that you open up, contains a smaller doll inside. But if you open that smaller doll, you find another, even smaller doll inside it. Keep going, and you find another; and then another; and still another - one doll inside another, until you come to a tiny little doll barely bigger than a sliver of wood. If you put them all back inside one another, and if you placed the big doll up on a shelf, you're really picking them all up and putting them all on the shelf at once; because all the dolls are contained in that first doll.
In a similar way, all of us were originally "contained" as it were in Adam; because he was our first earthly father, and all our lineages find their ultimate source in him. (And by the way; I hope you can see in this that I absolutely believe that the story of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a historic, factual one. To me, it explains everything that's going on in our world today.) Adam was the "head" of the human race - the "big doll" if you will. We were all "inside" him when he sinned; because none of us had yet been born from him. And his sin brought the damaging curse of sin upon the whole human race that was to come from him. That, of course, includes you and me.
All of us, then, are born in a condition of sin. We are all tainted with original sin as a result of being born from the original sinner, Adam. And the sin we've inherited from our father Adam separates us from the Holy God who made us for Himself; and so, all of us are born into a state of separation from God. Eventually, we show our true condition by committing our own personal sins. And as the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). All of us are born under a curse of sin and death, and all with the need to be saved from our desperate condition.
Let me ask those of you who have children; do you remember the first time your little child ever lied to you? Did you teach your little child to do that? Of course not. Or did you have to go to the other parent and say, "What have you done?!! Why did you teach this innocent little angel to lie?!! How could you do such a thing?!!" No, you didn't have to make any such accusation. No good parent would ever teach their tiny child to lie. How, then, did we learn to lie? You can probably even remember when you started finding out as a little person what a handy thing lying can be; and you figured THAT out all on your own. Lying is a sin; and no one has to teach us how to sin. It comes naturally to us; because we've been born into a family of sinners - with Adam, the original sinner, as our original father. We don't become sinners because we sin; but rather, we sin because we're born sinners.
Now does that mean that people who have been born from Adam don't sometimes do good things? Of course not. Lots of us sinners do lots of good things. But that's not the problem. The problem is that, because we're sinners, none of us could ever do anything that's "good enough" to restore us to the fellowship with God that He made us for, and rescue us from the curse God placed on all Adam's offspring because of sin.
So then; what can we do? The bad news is that there isn't anything we can do. But the good news is that God Himself has done everything that needs to be done to save us from our sins. The Bible teaches us that God sent His own beloved Son to be born into the human family, take all the sins of all Adam's sinful children on Himself, and die in their place on the cross. The Bible says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
The first Adam has gotten us into the fix we're in, because we were "in" him when he sinned. And our only hope out of our condition is to be "in" another Adam who pays for our sins, and lives a life of righteousness for us. Did you know that, in one place in the Bible, Jesus is specifically called "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45)? The Bible says that, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). All of humanity was summed up in Adam when he sinned; and now a last Adam has been given by God to take all the sins of the human race upon Himself and die in the place of all who will trust in Him. The Bible tells us about God's free gift of salvation through the last Adam in this way:
If you look again at the passage I have just read to you, you'll see that it keeps saying - over and over - that salvation from sin, and the righteousness that pleases God, is a "free gift". It isn't something you earn by trying to change your ways on your own, or by trying to clean-up your act, or by trying to do enough good deeds to outweigh the bad ones. Salvation is a "gift" - free of charge - because the price has already been paid by Jesus Himself when He died on the cross for us. And because Jesus is the "last Adam", God's gift of salvation is freely available to any member of the family of the first Adam that truly wants it and places their trust in Him
How do you receive this free gift of salvation? You receive it in the same way that anyone receives any truly "free" gift - by simply accepting it. The Bible says it very simply: "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your hearth that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:9-10). All that is needed in order to be saved from the curse of sin is to simply pray something like this: "God, I am a sinner. I was born in sin from Adam; and I have proven my nature by committing my own sins. And my sins have separated me from you; and there's nothing I could ever do to save myself. But now I hear that You sent Your own Son Jesus to die for my sins. I put my faith in what Jesus did on the cross as my only hope for salvation. I thank You for saving me in Him; and I ask You now to take my life and make me into the person You want me to be. Amen."
That's truly all that you need to do in order to receive God's free gift of salvation! That's all that's needed from us, because Jesus Himself has already done everything that's needed for our salvation on His cross. Later on this morning, I'd like to give you the opportunity to pray that prayer, and accept God's free offer of salvation through Jesus, if you haven't already. But I'm telling you about it now, because I want you to understand that baptism is a symbol for those who have willingly and conscientiously prayed that prayer, and have trusted Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for salvation. Their salvation by faith in Jesus Christ is the "spiritual reality" for which baptism serves, above all else, as the wonderful "symbol."
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I'd like you to look now with me at this passage from Romans. I want you to see for yourself just how significant the symbol of baptism really is. This passage shows us how baptism affirms certain "spiritual realities" to be true of the one who has placed his or her trust in Jesus as Savior. First, we see that ...
1. THEY HAVE DIED TO THEIR FORMER SLAVERY TO SIN THROUGH JESUS' CRUCIFIXION (vv. 1-7).
Paul begins by anticipating a question someone might have about all this. If God responded to our sin by causing His grace to abound to us in Jesus Christ, then does it really matter after all if we continue in our sins? If it's true that "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more" (Rom. 5:20), then why not sin it up BIG TIME, so that God's grace can REALLY abound?
But to say such a thing is to dreadfully misunderstand what God, in His grace, has caused to happen to us in Christ. Paul writes, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!" (In the original language, Paul uses one of the strongest "negatives" he can use. In the Greek, it's - "mé genoito"; or as one of my sons has very aptly translated it, "Mega Notta!" Basically, it's the ancient Greek form of, "No Way!!") Then, Paul asks something that emphasize the absolute inappropriateness of our continuing to live our lives in the realm of sin at all; "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"
I can imagine Paul's words coming as a shock to someone who reads them for the first time. Someone who has placed their trust in Jesus might read that and think, "'... Died to sin ...'? What is Paul talking about? When in the world did I ever 'die'?" But Paul explains when he, then, goes on to ask, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" That's how it can be that we have "died"; we died when we were "baptized" into Jesus' own death on the cross.
"Baptism" comes from the Greek word baptizo; and this is a word that basically means to "dip" or "soak" or "wash" something. Cloth that had been dipped in dye, and thus permanently identified with that dye, was said to have been "baptized" into it. In fact, in Revelation 19:13, this same word is used in the original language to describe a robe that had been "dipped in blood". To "baptize" something in something else in this way is to permanently identify the one thing with the other.
When used in a spiritual sense, then, "baptism" has inherently in it the idea of something being joined to something else in such a way as to be permanently identified with it. The Bible says that the people of Israel who were led by the pillar of cloud through the wilderness, and that passed through the Red Sea with Moses were "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:2). This means that they were brought into a spiritual identification with the man that God had raised up as their deliverer - Moses. Paul basically means the same thing when speaking of baptism in our passage this morning. He's not speaking so much of physical baptism in a church as he is the spiritual reality for which it is the symbol. Those who where baptized into Jesus by faith (a faith publically testified to by the ordinance of baptism) have been brought into union with Jesus. This union is so close and permanent that, as far as God is concerned, everything that happened to Jesus has also happened to them. When Jesus died, they died with Him. When Jesus was buried, they were buried with Him. When Jesus was resurrected from grave on Easter, they were raised up with Him. That's why Paul could go on to say, "Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection ..." (v. 4-5).
Paul's point in all this is that it's utterly inappropriate for someone who has placed their trust in Jesus to continue to live in the very sins that Jesus died to save them from. Jesus said, "... Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin" (John 8:34); and there was a time in which we who have trusted Jesus were the slaves to sin. Every time sin commanded us to do something, we simply had to obey it. We may have even thought that we had a choice in the matter; but the fact is that we were really slaves to sin, and didn't have a choice at all. We only chose ways we would be sinful; but we had no choice whatsoever whether or not we would sin.
We've been born into sin through Adam; and the only way out of our slavery to sin is to die. But just as the slave of a cruel master ceases to be his slave the moment he dies; so also we who have died in Christ have ceased to be the slave of sin. We died to sin with Jesus on the cross; and so, it's no longer appropriate for us to continue living in the sins of the past. It's as if we used to be a "man" that sin could use any time it wanted to. Because we were born in sin, we served as the "body" that sin needed in order to do it's sinful work. But now, we who are in Christ have ceased to be the obedient puppets of sin; "... knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (vv. 6-7).
This is one of the things that is pictured for us in baptism. The person being baptized goes into the water as if to symbolize that they have died with Jesus, and have been buried with Him. And now they are no longer under their old master, sin.
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Now; if that's all there was to the story, then we would baptize someone by putting them in the water, holding them under, and leaving them there. But praise God - that's not the whole story! Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so also we who have been baptized into His death also share in His resurrection! This leads us to the next thing baptism is intended to symbolize to be true of those who have trusted in Jesus; that ..
2. THEY HAVE BEEN RAISED UP TO NEWNESS OF LIFE IN JESUS' RESURRECTION (vv. 8-10).
Paul goes on to say, "Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God" (vv. 8-10).
Imagine again that poor slave living under a cruel master. If he dies, he's certainly free from the authority of his cruel master. But what good would that new freedom do for him if he had to remained dead while in it? On the other hand, think of the freedom and liberty he would truly enjoy if he not only died to his old master, but was then also resurrected to new power and new freedom! And this is a very accurate picture of what happens to us as a result of our having been united to Jesus Christ. We're not only joined to His death, which results in our having died to sin; but we're also joined to His resurrection, which results in our being raised to newness of life. Now we're alive in Jesus, freed from our former slavery to sin.
Notice that Paul says that "if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ..." This truth finds its ultimate fulfillment in our actual, physical resurrection. Our identification with Jesus' resurrection means that, just as He was physically raised from the dead, so will we one day be. The apostle Paul once wrote;
Actual, physical resurrection is the prospect of those who have been baptized into Christ. But being joined to Jesus in His resurrection now also means that right now, at this very moment, we have been raised to spiritual newness of life. If we have trusted Jesus as our Savior and have been joined to Him in His death, then as far as God is concerned we have also been joined to His life and walk around as resurrected people. We are living a resurrected life even as we speak. The Bible says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And now, in our resurrected condition, we can never again be condemned to death through sin. We are forever freed from the curse of sin through death; and we're also forever freed from the wages of sin (that is, death) through resurrection. Paul says that "Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God."
And so, this too is pictured for us in baptism. The person who is being baptized not only goes into the water as a symbol that they have died and have been buried with Jesus; but they also come out of the water, as if out of the grave and unto newness of life in Jesus.
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This leads us, finally, to the practical consequence of these truths. A final thing that baptism is intended to symbolize to be true of those who have trusted in Jesus is that ..
3. THEY ARE TO CONSIDER THEMSELVES FROM NOW ON TO BE DEAD TO SIN AND ALIVE TO GOD IN JESUS (vv. 11-14).
Paul puts it this way: "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."
Before being baptized into Christ's death and resurrection, we were under God's law. And the commandments of God made it impossible for us to be pleasing to Him; because all the commandments did was show what sinners we are. Therefore, sin had complete power over us. It enslaved us and brought us under a curse through the condemnation of the law. But now, sin can no longer have dominion over us, because we have been set free from the need to seek God's favor through rigid conformity to the law. Now, we rest in His favor through faith in His grace through Jesus.
This brings us to that important word "reckon" (or "consider" as it's translated in some Bibles). Paul is urging us to "reckon" everything that has been said about our having died in Christ and having been raised in Him to be true of us. We're to reckon it to be true by acting on the truth of it. We cease presenting our "members" - that is, our hands, our feet, our eyes, our lips, etc. - to our old master as instruments of sin; and now present ourselves to God, and our members as instruments of righteousness. "I have been crucified with Christ," Paul writes; "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which 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).
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This passage always reminds me of a letter I read once. It was written a century and a half ago by a former slave. Every time I read this remarkable little letter, I'm impressed not only with the amazing rhetorical powers of its writer, but also with what a great illustration it provides of this last point by the apostle Paul.
After the civil war, many freed slaves wandered throughout the South trying to survive without the help of their former masters. Most found the hardship of their new freedom much more desirable than any comforts they obtained from their old servitude. Some ex-slaveholders tried to convince their emancipated former-slaves to come back and work for them again. This letter was written by a former-slave named Jourdon Anderson to his former-master, who had appealed to him to return.
I love that letter. He signed it "from your old servant"; but he was a slave no longer! And having been set free, he wasn't about to give himself over again in servitude to such a cruel, evil master from whom he gained nothing but suffering, loss and death.
Similarly, Paul later asks, "For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:20-23). In Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, we have been set free from our cruel bondage to sin. Baptism is a symbol, then, of our faith in this new freedom. It's a visible declaration to everyone that we have been set free by Christ from our cruel bondage to sin. It's a public declaration that we have now given ourselves to God as alive from the dead, and the members of our body as instruments of righteousness before Him. It's a declaration that we are emancipated; and that the members of our body are no longer available as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin.
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As we witness a baptism this morning, I hope that you now have a greater appreciation of what a wonderful cause for celebration it is than you have ever had before. And if you have not yet entered into the freedom through Jesus Christ that this wonderful symbol represents, I pray that you will not delay, but will do so by placing your faith in Jesus today.
1From The Freedman's Book, by L. Maria Child (1865); cited in Milton Meltzer, ed., In Their Own Words: A History of The American Negro (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1964), pp. 170-2.
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