Imagine with me for a minute that you had never seen or heard about baptism before. Now imagine you see a baptism service? What would you make of it? Many years ago I was at a church picnic with a different church and there was a pool with a hired lifeguard and the church did a baptism service there. I remember thinking, “this poor lifeguard. What must they be thinking? We dunk these teens and adults into a pool and everyone claps. This is so weird!” What was that poor lifeguard thinking of it all?
But I don’t think baptism is necessarily a bit of a mystery to just outsiders. Perhaps many of us here don’t really feel like we totally grasp the point or what it means. There are a lot of different opinions and convictions on the significance of baptism and who should be baptized and what it does. And we are called North Leverett Baptist Church, does that have anything to do with baptism? And I am sure some of the confusion lies in the fact that unless we have a baptism service it is just not something we talk about. I would be willing to bet that we usually don’t think about when we were baptized unless it is happening to someone else right here in front of us. And baptism comes up in Scripture kind of infrequently so we are not apt to come across it much in our regular Sunday sermons. Which is why I wanted to touch on it especially after the last sermon in our new series on the foundations of the church. If you remember a couple weeks back, we looked at communion, the Lord’s Supper.
And these two things, communion and baptism, go hand in hand. They are the two, the only two, ordinances of the church. Meaning these are the two things that God has expressly commanded to be practiced by churches. And so important are these two things that the right practice of them is what makes a church a church. If you don’t rightly do communion or baptism then you can’t call yourself a church.
If baptism is so important, what then is it?
Baptism is an outward proclamation of the inward spiritual realities of our salvation in Christ for us as individuals and as a church body.
You may notice, this sounds a lot like communion. The bread and the juice of the Lord’s Supper are visible pictures of the gospel, spiritual realities. And just like with communion, God has given us another physical picture, and outward, tangible expression, of invisible, inward things. Baptism is something we can touch and feel and look back on and watch in front of us. We creatures are limited in our capacities to deal in only spiritual things, and God knows that. So he has given us visible things that correspond to invisible realities.
So, we are going to look first at those inward spiritual realities and then how baptism proclaims them.
- Inward Spiritual Realities
What are the inward spiritual realities that baptism corresponds with? As we see in our passage, those who have received Christ through faith, have been given a new life in him. Where once we were dead, we have been made alive. Where once we stood condemned, we have been forgiven. And all of this is a work of God, not due to anything on our part. We did nothing to earn this new life. In fact, we couldn’t have, we couldn’t meet God half-way or work our way to him in any fashion because, as it says in verse 13, our sin has left us dead.
Everyone of all time has been born a sinner; not only do we commit sin but we are born guilty already. So when we come into this world, we are already dead in our trespasses. This means that we are unable to respond to God, unable to come to him, lifeless and cut-off from him. Our natural spiritual state is one of hopelessness. It is hopeless because our sin against a perfect and holy God creates a record of debt that stands against us, as Paul says in verse 14. And the penalty of that sin, its legal demands, is an eternity of separation from God in Hell. This is what all of us deserve, it is what each and every sin earns us. Dead now, in this life, and eternal death away from God forever.
But God, because of his great love for us, changed all of that. He did all of the work not because we were lovely or deserving but because of his heart of abundant grace and mercy. He made dead sinners like you and me come to life! Where once there was no hope, he shined his light into our darkness.
How did he do that? God the Father sent God the Son, who willingly left his throne in heaven, and was born as a little baby boy, a person just like us. He took on flesh and bones, he stepped into his creation, into our existence, the spirtual became visible, in the man Jesus.
And although he was just like us, he did what we dead sinners could not do. We transgress God’s perfect standard, God’s law, but Jesus upheld it perfectly throughout his entire life. He lived a perfect, sinless life, the one we are called to live but never could. When he was tempted in every way as we are, he stood firm and resisted. When he was tired and hungry, he did not sin. When he was maligned and mistreated, he spoke no ill-word back. He was sinless, entirely perfect in his following of God’s holy standard.
And then on top of that, he took his perfect life and he gave it up. He died by being nailed to a cross, and in that gruesome death, he took upon himself the wrath of God, the penalty of our sin, in our place.
Everything that I earn in my sin, and trespasses, my failings before God, Jesus took it all on himself. The wrath of God, being separated from him, judgement and shame, all of it was put on him. Jesus took all of my sin with all of its penalties and legal demands, he took it on himself. My record of debt was nailed to the cross with his hands and his feet.
And if that wasn’t enough, not only did he take my sinful record of debt on himself, he took his perfect record, his sinless life, and he put it on my account. So now, when the Father looks at me, he doesn’t see my sin, but his Son’s perfect righteousness. All of my sin is gone, it is dead, forgiven, cut-off, destroyed, set-aside, cancelled. And I am left with his perfect standing. Not that I am made perfect, not yet, but I am declared by God to be in perfect standing with him because of his Son.
But our Savior didn’t stay dead, the cross wasn’t the end and his work on our behalf didn’t stop there. On the third-day after he died, he came back to life, he was raised from the dead, as we read in verse 12. He was given new life by God the Father, restored to the glorious life that he had before. And he took us with him when he did it! God raised us up, too. We came back to life with him. Where once I was dead, now it is my sin that is dead and I am alive with him! Alive today spiritually to newness of life in restored fellowship with God to walk in his joy and peace. And alive forevermore physically, with the hope of a perfect and endless life with him when this life comes to an end.
God did all of that. He did all of the work. He looked upon us dead and unable sinners and he said I am going to pour out my heart of grace upon them. He requires nothing of us to come to him, to be brought back to life. No good-deeds, like I said we don’t meet him in the middle. We could never even do that.
It is only through faith in Christ that we can be made alive together with him. This simply means that we have to believe in our hearts that this is true. Think about that for a moment. Fpr all of this, the most important part of our life because it has to deal with our eternal destiny, We are called to simply confess and believe that he has done all of the work. He has made us alive; he has taken our place; he has forgiven us and canceled our debts. All we do is accept that and believe in him alone for life today and life forevermore with him.
The only thing we have to do is acknowledge this truth, believing that we are dead in our sin, cut-off from God, unable to come to him on our own and headed for an eternity away from him. Believe that God has given us a way back to him through the death and resurrection of Jesus, who died in our place, who took our sin on himself and gave us his perfect life instead.
When we believe that, if we confess that as the truth, then we are made alive. Then we have received Christ and we are brought back to life with him. And we are given the joy and privilege of spending the rest of our lives and all of eternity walking with Christ, growing in the knowledge of Him, plumbing the depths of the treasures of his wisdom and knowledge and his heart for us. That is why Paul says in verses 8-10 we aren’t to be taken captive by the world’s way of thinking. We don’t need the world, we have Christ! We have the one who has filled us to overflowing with every spiritual blessing, we walk with the one who wants to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace. I don’t need the world, I don’t need my sin, I have Jesus now and forevermore.
And God, in his infinite wisdom has not left us to do this alone but has taken all those who come to him by faith, everyone who has received Christ individually, God has put them into a body, a new community, a new family, which is the church. A place where we are all one in Christ. We are one together, meant to walk with Christ with one another. He has made us as individuals into one unified whole. We are a new and better family, united together by the circumcision of Christ, which is our salvation, where our sinful flesh was cut-off, nailed to the cross and we were given new life. We are one in him today and forevermore. We are his people together.
And as a body we are called to walk in this new life together, to grow together, to help one another, to spur one another on in our growth in godliness, to encourage one another, to show one another Christ, to fellowship and gather together, to do all of life together in this new community that God has placed us in when he made us alive together with him. We are with him together. We are not alone, we are not islands, we are not saved as individuals to stay that way. We are saved personally to then be together; to be the bride of Christ as a whole, to be a community, to be one forever.
That is just a snapshot of the spiritual realities present in all those who have received Christ. And the Christian life is one of never-ending exploration, growth and diving deeper and deeper into knowing him more, the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as Paul says in verse 3.
- Baptism as Proclamation
And baptism, then, is an outward taste of all that is happening within us, spiritually. It is the proclamation of the inward realities of our salvation and entrance into the body of Christ.
We see this in verses 11 and 12. It seems a little funny that Paul brings up the topic of circumcision here. But it is important for us to understand what he is saying especially since this is where a lot of debate regarding baptism comes up.
Circumcision first appears in the Bible way back in Genesis 17. There, God told Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, he and his offspring would be blessed and they would have a special land to dwell in forever. And as an initiation into that promise, all of the people of that promise, what is called the covenant community, a physical sign was given to Abraham and his descendants when God said every male was to be circumcised when they were 8 days old. This was to be the picture, the sign and seal that they were a part of this covenant, this community, the people chosen by God.
Here in Colossians, then, Paul takes up circumcision and says that everyone who has received Christ is now circumcised in him, in Christ. It is done without hands, meaning it is spiritual in nature, not physical, it is inward. What is cut off is not physical flesh like in the Old Testament, but it is our sinful flesh, our sin nature; it is a circumcision of the heart. And this is done to all who are in Christ, to everyone who has come to him through faith, as he says in verse 12. This is his work in us, when he cut off our sin by nailing it to the cross.
And so now, just as circumcision was the sign of entering into the Old Testament community, spiritual circumcision through faith in Christ, is the entrance into a new community, the church. Just like Old Testament Israel, we are set-apart from the world and brought into a covenant community, we are marked off by God to follow and glorify him under his new covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.
And I think it is important to note, that here is where our brothers and sisters in Christ that hold to infant baptism see things a little differently. They would take this passage and connect Old Testament circumcision, which was done to infants, with baptism in verse 12 and say infants should be baptized which then brings them into the church, the new covenant community just like circumcision did.
However, we believe, as Baptists, that Paul is not drawing a direct line between Old Testament circumcision and baptism, but Old Testament circumcision and spiritual circumcision which is done through faith. That comes first. Faith precedes and is a requirement for baptism, not the other way around. And it is faith that brings you into the new covenant community, not baptism.
Paul brings up baptism here not as the entrance into the church but as the outward sign, the proclamation of that inward spiritual reality. Paul is saying that through faith in the work of God, you have died with Christ to your sin, to the world, to your old way of living. You have been raised up with him into his new life in his bride, his body, his new community of faith. That has happened internally, spiritually. Now outwardly, step one, walk into that life through the waters of baptism.
Proclaim in a visible way what has happened spiritually through faith in Christ. Tell the world with a tangible picture that you have been buried with Christ and raised with him through the powerful working of God who raised Christ and you from the dead. Tell the church that you are now one with them because you have been marked off through spiritual circumcision as one of God’s people in the new covenant. Say all of that through baptism.
And we as a church, we are proclaiming that we see the one being baptized as one of our own. Baptism is not just for the one being baptized but for all of us. We are actively proclaiming that this person is now one with us. We believe this person has been crucified and buried with Christ and raised to new life with him, together with us. We claim them as Christ’s and a part of our family. They are no longer the world’s but ours in him. And through the waters of baptism we as a church, all of us, are pledging that we will walk alongside of this person, to encourage the one being baptized as they walk with Christ as we are all being rooted and built up together in our faith.
I mentioned this earlier, but I just love how God sees us and knows us in our weakness and he knows that we need pictures, physical things that correspond to spiritual realities. We have communion, which we as a church partake in once a month, where we have the physical symbols of the broken body and shed blood of Christ in the read and juice.
And we have baptism, which is a tangible proclamation of the inward spiritual realities. When I was baptized, I could feel the water rushing over me as I went over. I was buried in it. When I was brought up out of the water, I could feel the oxygen filling my lungs again as I breathed life into them. It is a perfect picture of the gospel.
God has so graciously given us baptism to solidify in our minds and hearts our salvation and entrance into Christ and his church. It is meant to be a tangible picture of spiritual things both for the one being baptized and the ones participating with them as a church family.
Baptism, therefore, is meant for all Christians, all who proclaim faith in Christ. Everyone who says this has happened inside, spiritually, should proclaim it outwardly through baptism.
And everyone who has been baptized should remember that moment. Remember what it meant, what it proclaimed. Every time you see and feel water, let it remind of the waters of baptism. Think of the inward spiritual realities and how you have been buried and raised with Christ. Let your baptism and Lord willing future baptisms we have here as a church, spur you on to further growth in Christ as you reflect on the glorious realities of what God as done for us in Christ Jesus.
We who were dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive together with him.