CAN YOU SEE ANY SENSE IN IT?
T. PIERCE BROWN
When I was but a young man I heard preaching brethren say of baptism, “Our religious friends say, `I do not see any sense in it.’ I do not see any sense in it either, but since God says do it, we must do it.” I agreed then, and now, that when God gives us a command, it is our responsibility to obey, whether or not we understand all the reasons behind it. However, I fear that we may have left the impression that God’s commands are somewhat arbitrary, and really are to be thought sensible only by those who are credulous, or limited in intelligence. It has been my experience in the last 50 years or so of trying to win persons to Christ that it is helpful if I can show plausible reasons why they are asked to do something. They not only need to know, “Why be baptized?” but also “Why is baptism, instead of some other act, related to remission of sins as it is?”
This article, then, is for the purpose of suggesting that there is sense in the act of baptism, and to set forth some reasons why it is commanded. Let us look at some things God needed to accomplish, and how he chose to accomplish them.
First, God has always acted upon this principle: The faith that he required as a prerequisite to the blessing offered must be an active or obedient faith. One needs only to look at the history of man as revealed in the Bible to see that principle demonstrated repeatedly. God reviews a portion of that history in Hebrews 11. In every case the faith that was pleasing to God — the faith that was necessary to accomplish the desired result — was an obedient faith. “By faith Abel offered — ,” “By faith Noah — prepared — ,” “By faith Abraham — obeyed — .” Of course that principle is pragmatically and historically true outside the Bible. Never was anything accomplished by faith until that faith was demonstrated!
Having established that principle, let us now look at some of the reasons for baptism. First, God wanted an act that would, by its very nature, not only be an act of faith on the part of the one doing it, but also show itself to be such an act to those who witnessed it. The question may be raised: Why is not repentance such an act? Is not repentance an act of faith, and does it not demonstrate faith in Christ when one repents? Although it is certainly true that the repentance God demands is an act of faith, and without faith in Christ, one cannot repent with relation to Christ, it is also true that one may repent and indicate repentance so that others may see it, and still not have faith in Christ! For example, a drunkard may become so sorry about his drunkenness that will quit it without necessarily having faith in Christ, in which case it does not relate to his salvation! Some of our religious neighbors teach that a person can repent before he believes. It is true that a man can repent with relation to some things without believing in Christ, but one can not repent with relation to his sin against Christ without believing in him. The Jews in Acts 2 could not “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” which involved crucifying the Lord, etc. if they did not believe him to be the Lord.
So, every act that a man does with reference to his salvation must be related to his faith in Christ. Baptism in the name of Jesus, into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be done without both having faith in Christ and demonstrating that faith. Men may be, and have been, baptized without true faith in Christ, but such baptism is not the kind mentioned above for the remission of sins. The kind of baptism the Bible requires can only be done by faith in Christ.
Second, God wanted an act of faith that could be demonstrated universally — in all areas where men live, and one that every strata of society would be able to do. If he had asked that we offer our sons on an altar as an act of faith, not all could. If he asked that we bring a precious jewel, those who had no access to a jewel would be lost. But he only asked that each person offer himself (and every person has that) and be buried in water (to which every living person has access, no matter where they live).
Third, God wanted an act that would demonstrate faith, not only in the command of God, but in the person and work of Christ. They must be acts that are related to the fundamentals of the gospel — the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. There are many who believed that one called Jesus lived, but not that he died and was resurrected. The act of burial in baptism at the command of Christ is a logical demonstration of the fact that one has died to the love and practice of sin, and that he wants to be buried with Christ, and raised to walk in newness of life. There is no other act that the wisdom of God has devised (and certainly none which men could devise) that so aptly, eloquently, and beautifully set forth the facts of the gospel, and demonstrate one’s faith in the reality of those facts as the act of baptism. God’s wisdom chose an act that would allow the obedient believer to preach the facts of the gospel, even as he obeyed its commands. Here is a part of the ground for the false assumption of our religious friends who say, “Baptism is just a symbol.” It IS a symbol, but not just a symbol. Certainly it symbolizes our death to sin, our burial with Christ, and our resurrection to walk a new life with him, but it is much more than that.
Fourth, since God has provided that his Son’s blood be shed for the remission of our sins, there logically had to be an act by which man could appropriate that blood in a spiritual sense. It had to be an act of faith, but the act of faith had to be one that could be seen as connected with the death of Christ for us. To die to sin in repentance, and to indicate that death by being buried with Christ into his death is apparently the most appropriate act the wisdom of God could devise that could bring a man into a spiritual connection with the blood of Christ, which was shed in his death. It is not an arbitrary command that makes no sense! There is no more logical time and place to forgive a man’s sins — wash them away in the blood of Christ — than where and when man demonstrates his faith in the power of that blood by symbolically coming into contact with it.
Fifth, while getting all of that done, God needed to make sure that while symbolizing one’s death to sin and burial with Christ, he did not have any conflicting symbolism that would detract from the wisdom, beauty, and completeness of the picture. For example, one might symbolize his burial with Christ by going into a literal grave and being covered with dirt, but aside from the difficulty and danger of doing that, there would be a clash of symbols. Dirt and filth suggest evil and wickedness. However, when one is buried with Christ in the water of baptism, not only is our faith in Christ demonstrated, not only is our faith in the particular facts of the gospel demonstrated, but there is beautifully symbolized what actually takes place — the washing away of sins!
There are at least these five good reasons why baptism makes sense. I contend that there is no other act that the wisdom of God could devise which would so aptly accomplish those five things simultaneously as the act of baptism. It is true that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, but that does not mean they are arbitrary or do not have any sense in them. It is simply that the worldly wise can not see any sense. Let us be wiser than they are!