What is the Gospel?
It’s good to see you have taken time to consider the Bible’s message. Perhaps you are cautious of religion. Going to church, performing rituals, following traditions. And we would quite agree with you. The Bible teaches that God lives in the heart of men and women who listen to His words. The only ceremonies we should follow are those the Bible itself clearly explains – and there are very few of them in the Bible. Being baptized by dipping in water and breaking bread every week in memory of Jesus are the two main ones.
Or perhaps you’re just an ordinary person who wants God in your life, but doesn’t want to go any deeper. Now this is probably true of many of us who would read a religious leaflet, come to a lecture about the Bible, or have a discussion about it. It’s wonderful that we believe that God is; for surely He does exist. But there is so much more waiting to be discovered – by studying His word, the Bible, we can come to know Him and have a part in His eternal plan. That book was written by His Spirit influencing the people who wrote it – it isn’t just the words of men, like any other book. So this is why it’s so worth studying.
Or maybe you think you know it all. You’ve looked at the Bible, you figured it out. But if you are very, very honest, something is missing. There’s that hollow feeling still, that fear of the future, that lack of certainty about our final destiny... that doubt that’s like the black dog that follows most men and women till their grave. And to you, we’d say: Give it one more try. Perhaps human interpretations have got muddled up with your consideration of the Bible. Get back to the Bible text itself.
Or maybe you see Christianity as “just another intellectual adventure”, another hobby to play with for a while, another fascination, another town along a road – that leads to the grave all the same. Life is too short to have this kind of cynical attitude. One day you will be laid down in your grave, one day the terrible finality of death will close in on you. Give the Bible text a fair hearing now. Please, purely for your own sake, spare a few minutes of your life to at least consider what it says.
So can I address the question, What Is The Gospel?
Please open your New Testament to Matthew 1:1. This is the beginning of Matthew’s explanation of the Gospel. We read:
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
It’s not quite what we’d expect. He says Jesus is the descendant of David and Abraham. And this, for Matthew, is the beginning of the Gospel. Paul saw it the same way. Have a look at Galatians 3:8:
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
So, the Gospel is what was promised to Abraham. That’s what Paul says. So, if we can understand what God promised to Abraham, we can understand what the Gospel is. So let’s go back to the Old Testament, and see what God told Abraham. We’ll go to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, Genesis 17:8:
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
So Abraham was told that he and his children would live for ever on this earth. So, eternal life is an idea that comes up in the Old Testament. Note that – because the essential message of the Bible is the same all the way through. How could this be? Turn on to Genesis 22:17,18:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
Abraham was to have a son who would be the source of blessing for the whole world. Now the way to understand the Bible is to see how the Bible itself quotes itself and gives us the interpretation. Now these words we have just read are quoted in the New Testament – in Acts 3:25,26. Let’s go there and find the interpretation.
Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
So, who is the seed of Abraham? Jesus. And what are the blessings he would enable for men and women of the whole world? The blessings of forgiveness of sins and salvation. Let’s go further. To Galatians 3:16:
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
So, the seed of Abraham was one man, singular, Jesus. But how could that one man become so many, as many as the stars in the sky? Let’s read Galatians 3:27-29.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
So, only those who have been baptized into Christ have a part in these promises – the promises of eternal life here on earth. This is why we must be baptized if we are going to be saved! Paul said that his hope was “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). As he faced death, this was his hope – the hope of Israel. What is baptism, then? It isn’t sprinkling. The New Testament is written in Greek, and the word translated ‘baptism’ means really to dip. It was used about a ship sinking, being submerged, or a piece of cloth being dyed from one colour to another by immersing it. Have a look at Mathew 3:13-16:
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
Jesus went “down into” the water and came “up out of it”. He was baptized as an adult, not as a baby; by dipping, not sprinkling. That’s why it was done in a river. And if He was baptized, so should we be. This dipping and rising up signifies the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that we have decided to make His death and resurrection our own. This is why it has to be by immersion, not by sprinkling. Have a look at Romans 6:3-5:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
This is why we appeal to you to be baptized – make it your aim in life, to accept Jesus Christ! By being baptized into Jesus, we become part of Him, and therefore the promises apply to us. Therefore when He returns, we will be resurrected, judged and then, if we have lived faithfully according to God’s word, we will be given the eternal life which He now has. Then we will live for ever in God’s Kingdom here on earth. If you believe this, then life has a new meaning. Whatever material problems we have, we will realize that they are only temporary, and when Christ returns He will give us a new and eternal life. This is why in the Bible and in Christ there is real HOPE. The hope ahead is so great that our present problems do not seem so great.
But how can it be, that this man Jesus can save us? He was our representative, and this is why we must be baptized into His death and resurrection; because He was just like us. Have a look at Heb. 2:14-18:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
Notice in passing that the devil is not an animal or a dragon. It is used here as a personification for sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), but here we read that ‘the devil’ “has the power of death”. We need to struggle against our own natures, not against an invisible being outside of ourselves. Verse 14 says the same thing several times – He, Himself, likewise, partook, the same nature as us. Yet most ‘Christian’ groups teach that there are three Gods in a trinity, and one of them was Jesus. But this isn’t what the Bible says. And according to Hebrews, it is very important we get our understanding of Jesus right. He was exactly of our nature. The writer stresses it 4 times! He was tempted like us. And how are we tempted? By our own human nature. Have a look at James 1:13-15:
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
This means that Jesus had our human nature. God can’t be tempted, it says, but Jesus was tempted, Hebrews says. So Jesus wasn’t God Himself. He was a man, the Son of God by birth, the descendant of David and Abraham through Mary. Likewise, God can’t be born; but Jesus was born. God can’t die; but Jesus died. We cannot see God; but men saw and handled Jesus. Jesus didn’t exist before His birth, either. He was the son of God through Mary. Have a look at Luke 1:31-35:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Notice all those future tenses! He will be the Son of God, Mary will conceive in her womb – this is where Jesus began, although the idea, the logos of Jesus, had always been with God from the beginning. Notice that Mary was just an ordinary woman. Jesus was the descendant of Abraham and David, and this could only have been because his mother was their descendant. If Jesus was God, then Mary is the mother of God, and she wasn’t an ordinary woman. If as the Bible teaches Jesus was the Son of God and also “son of man”, the descendant of Abraham and David through Mary, it is evident that Mary was an ordinary woman. So it’s all or nothing – a system of true belief, or a system of wrong belief. It is important to believe the right thing, because doctrine affects how we live. Have a look at Hebrews 4:15,16:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Because Jesus was of our nature, therefore we can pray with confidence through Him to God. We don’t need a human priest, church building or pastor to make our prayers acceptable.
So can I just summarize the things we have spoke about in seeking to respond to the question- What is the Gospel? :
1. There is only one God, not a ‘trinity’
2. Jesus is the Son of God, not God Himself; He didn’t exist before He was born. He had all our temptations and human experiences, but He never sinned. He gave His life for us in a painful death, but then, because He never sinned, God resurrected Him from the dead.
3. Through baptism into Christ by the dipping in water of an adult, we share His death and resurrection
4. So when Jesus Christ returns we will be resurrected, judged and given eternal life in His Kingdom – which will be based here on this earth. This Kingdom will be like the world was in the garden of Eden, when God first created man – and even better. All the problems which are now on earth – war, famine, sadness, even death itself, will be finally ended – for ever.
5. After death we are unconscious – ‘hell’ means just ‘the grave’.
6. The soul is not immortal; we are made of dust and return to the dust. The spirit is the power of life within us, which God takes back when we die. We don’t go on existing in any conscious form after death.
7. ‘Satan’ is a symbol for the evil human desires inside us, against which we must struggle; it is not the name of a dragon or monster that exists. God is 100% powerful; He doesn’t share His power with ‘satan’. All our problems come from God, not satan, and therefore there is a positive spiritual purpose to them.
8. By reading the Bible for ourselves we can find the true way to God.
I do appeal to you, to study these things, and give yourself no rest until you have come to surely know the answer to the question: What is the Gospel? I do so hope you will study our free Bible study course; and set yourself the aim, to be baptized one day, by dipping in water. Then you will surely have the hope of eternal life. OK we can’t imagine eternal life. I can only suggest we imagine a long, long line, with no end, stretching on into the distance; and we in this life are just a few millimetres at the start of it. This really is our hope, if we are baptized into Jesus and live in Him. I plead with you, to take all this seriously, and not treat it as mere religion, as just something ordinary.
The Way to Eternal Life
“The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” ROMANS 6:23
The constantly repeated message of the Gospel is that the way to eternal life is through the work of Christ. Those obedient to God’s commands will spend immortality in a state of perfection – the reward for righteousness. This being the only immortality of which the Bible speaks, it follows that the conscious eternal suffering for wrongdoing is without Biblical support.
Immortality is conditional, and is not something which we naturally possess, as the following passages prove:
- “Christ has.....brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10; 1 John 1:2).
- “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life (inherent) in you. Whoever eats My flesh….has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:52-54) – to give him this “eternal life”. Christ’s reasoning throughout John chapter 6 is that He is the “bread of life”, and that only through correct response to him, is there immortality (John 6:47, 50, 51, 57, 58).
- “God hath given to us (believers) eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). There can be no hope of immortality for those not “in Christ”. Only through Christ has immortality been made possible; He is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9; Acts 3:15 A.V. margin). Therefore immortality for men came through the work of Christ.
- The true believer seeks for immortality, and will be rewarded by the gift of eternal life – something he does not naturally possess (Romans 2:7; 6:23; John 10:28). Our mortal body “must put on immortality” at the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53); thus immortality is something promised, not now possessed (1 John 2:25).
- God alone has inherent immortality (1 Timothy 6:16).
What is the Soul?
In the light of the foregoing it ought to be inconceivable that man has an ‘immortal soul’. The Hebrew ‘Nephesh’ and Greek ‘Psuche’, which are translated ‘soul’ in the Bible are also translated as: body, breath, creature, heart, mind, person, himself. The ‘soul’ therefore refers to the person, body or self.
Man and Beast
There is no difference between man and animals in our fundamental nature and death:
- “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts: one thing befalls them (note the double emphasis): as one dies, so dies the other....man has no advantage over beasts….All (i.e. man and animals) go to one place (the grave): all are from the dust, and all return to dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20)
Death of the Soul
A very basic fact is that all “living creatures” eventually die. About a third of the words translated ‘soul’, are associated with the death and destruction of the soul. This shows that the soul cannot be something which is immortal. For example:
- “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
- “God can destroy the soul. “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body (Matthew 10:28. See also Ezekiel 22:27; Proverbs 6:32; Leviticus 23:30; Numbers 15:27-31; Isaiah 53:10).
That the ‘soul’ refers to the person or body rather than some immortal spark within us is shown by the majority of verses where the word occurs. Some examples:
- “The blood of the souls” (Jeremiah 2:34).
- “If a soul sin….if a soul touch any unclean thing….if a soul swear” (Leviticus 5:1-4 A.V. See also Psalm 103:1, 2, 5; Mark 8:35).
This is proof that the soul does not refer to any spiritual element within man; here, ‘soul’ just means one’s physical life.
The Spirit of Man
The Hebrew (‘Ruach’) and Greek (‘Pneuma’) words for ‘spirit’ are also translated in the following ways: life, spirit, mind, wind, breath.
God uses His spirit to preserve the natural creation. The spirit of God within man is therefore the life force within him, as these verses demonstrate:
- “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26).
- God “breathed into his (Adam’s) nostrils the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
The spirit of life is given to us at birth, and remains as long as our body is alive.
The Removal of God’s Spirit
When God’s spirit is withdrawn from anything, it immediately perishes. If God “should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15).
When God takes away His spirit from us at death, not only does our body die, but our entire consciousness ceases. “Do not put your trust in princes…. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3-4).
At death, “the dust will return to the earth as it was; and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). When we die we ‘breathe our last’ in the sense that God’s spirit within us departs from us. That spirit is absorbed into God’s spirit which is all around us; so at death “the spirit will return to God”.
Death is Unconsciousness
The Bible makes it clear that we have no consciousness during the death state:
- “(Man’s) spirit departs, he return to his earth; in that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:4).
- “The dead know nothing….their love, their hatred, and their envy, have now perished” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6; see also verse 10).
Death is repeatedly referred to as a sleep or rest, both for the righteous and the wicked: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake”; “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days” (Daniel 12:2, 13. See also Job 3:11, 13, 17).
Sufficient evidence has been produced for us to bluntly state that the notion of the righteous going to a state of bliss in heaven at death, is simply not found in the Bible.
The Bible emphasizes that the reward of the righteous will be at the resurrection, at the coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Paul said that if there is no resurrection, then all effort to be obedient to God is pointless (1 Corinthians 15:32). Surely he would not have reasoned like this if he believed that he would also be rewarded with his ‘soul’ going to heaven at death? The implication is that he believed the resurrection of the body to be the only form of reward.
Christ encouraged us with the words “you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). At his return, Christ “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). As he now has a literal bodily form, energized purely by Spirit rather than blood, so we will share a similar reward.
Our Reward – Life with an Immortal Body
At the judgment we will be rewarded for how we have lived this life in a bodily form (2 Corinthians 5:10). The ungodly retain their present mortal body, which will then rot back to dust. Those who have tried to overcome the mind of the flesh with that of the Spirit “will of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:8) in the form of a Spirit-filled body.
There is ample evidence that the reward of the righteous will be in a bodily form. Once this is accepted, the vital importance of the resurrection should be apparent. Our present body clearly ceases to exist at death; if we can only experience eternal life and immortality in a bodily form, it follows that death must be a state of unconsciousness, until such time as our body is re-created and then given God’s nature. Our present body will then be changed to an immortal one (Philippians 3:21).
Through baptism we associate with Christ’s death and resurrection, showing we believe we too will share the reward which He received through His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). Through sharing His sufferings now, we will also share His reward (2 Corinthians 4:10; Romans 8:23).
This hope of a literal bodily reward has been understood by God’s people from earliest times (Isaiah 26:19). Job knew that although his body would be eaten by worms, he would, in a bodily form, receive his reward: “my redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth: and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).
The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth?
The following passages show that earth, not heaven will be the location of God’s Kingdom.
- The ‘Lord’s Prayer’ asks for God’s Kingdom to come, whereby God’s desires will be done on earth as they are now done in heaven (Matthew 6:10). We are therefore praying for God’s Kingdom to come on the earth.
- “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5. See also Psalm 37, especially verses 11, 22, 34, 35) – not ‘….. for their souls shall go to heaven’. Living in the earth forever means that eternal life in heaven is an impossibility.
- “David…is both dead and buried…. David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:29, 34). Peter explained that David’s hope was the resurrection from the dead at Christ’s return (Acts 2:22-36).
- The righteous will say at the judgment: Christ has “made us kings and priests to our God: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9, 10).
The Bible teaches that hell is the grave, where all men go at death. The Hebrew word ‘sheol’, translated ‘hell’, means ‘a covered place’. A good translation of this word is ‘grave’. The following examples of ‘sheol’, should torpedo the popular conception of hell as a place of fire and torment for the wicked:
- “Let the wicked……be silent in the grave” (Psalm 31:17)
- they will not be screaming in agony.
- “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave” (Psalm 49:15) – i.e. David’s soul or body would be resurrected from the grave, or ‘hell’.
Seeing that ‘hell’ is the grave, the righteous will be saved from it through their resurrection to eternal life. The supreme example is that of Jesus, whose “soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (Acts 2:31 KJV) because he was resurrected. That Christ went to ‘hell’ should be proof enough that it is not just a place where the wicked go.
What happens to sinners?
God does not impute sin to those ignorant of His word (Romans 5:13). Those in this position will remain dead. Those who have known God’s requirements will be resurrected and judged at Christ’s return. If wicked, they will be punished with death and stay dead for ever (Revelation 2:11; 20:6). It is in this sense that the punishment for sin is ‘everlasting’, in that there will be no end to their death.
It is one of God’s principles that the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23; 8:13; James 1:15). Death is a state of complete unconsciousness. Sin results in total destruction, not eternal torment. (Matthew 21:41; 22:7; Mark 12:9; James 4:12).
Unconsciousness – the Practical meaning of Death
There can be no activity in the grave…. Therefore now is the time to live a life active to the absolute maximum in the Lord’s service (Ecclesiastes 9:10-13). Moses pleaded with God to make time-frittering Israel see the implications of their mortality; having eloquently spoken of the tragedy of our mortality, he concludes: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
The tragic brevity of life means that we should quit time wasting follies. The fact we are going to die relatively soon, and lie unconscious, drives the man who seriously believes it, to faith in the God of resurrection. Death being like a sleep, it follows that judgment day is our next conscious experience after death. Because death is an ever more likely possibility for us, our judgment is effectively almost upon us. And we must live with and in that knowledge.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved” MARK 16:16
Baptism is one of the most basic Bible doctrines (see Hebrews 6:2 for example). True baptism can only occur after a correct grasp of the basic truths which comprise the Gospel. If you wish to become truly associated with the great hope which the Bible offers through Jesus Christ, then baptism is an absolute necessity.
“Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) in the sense that the promises concerning salvation were made only to Abraham and his seed. We can only have those promises made to us if we become in the Seed, by being baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:22-19).
Jesus therefore clearly commanded His followers:
- Go into all the world and preach the gospel (which is contained in the promises to Abraham – Galatians 3:8) to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15-16).
Baptism – Start of a New Life
Belief of the Gospel alone cannot save us; baptism is not just an optional extra, it is a vital prerequisite for salvation. Baptism must be followed by a lifetime of continued obedience to God’s Word. Jesus emphasized this: “Most assuredly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
“Born of water” refers to baptism: after this, one must be born again of the spirit. This is an ongoing process “Being born again….through the word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Thus it is through our continued response to God’s spirit word that we become born of the spirit.
Baptized Into Christ
We are “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3:27), into His name (Acts 19:5; 18:16; Matthew 28:19). Note that we are baptized into Christ – not into the Christadelphians or any human organization. Without baptism we are not “in Christ”, and therefore not covered by His saving word (Acts 4:12).
True Belief Compels Baptism
The book of Acts of the Apostles shows the vital importance of baptism and emphasizes how immediately people were baptized after accepting the Gospel (e.g. Acts 8:12, 36-39; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15). This emphasis is understandable once it is appreciated that without baptism our learning of the Gospel is in vain.
The prison keeper at Philippi was suddenly plunged into the crisis of his life by a massive earthquake which completely broke up his high security prison. The prisoners had ample opportunity to escape – something which would have cost him his life. His faith in the Gospel then became real, so much so that “the same hour of the night….immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33). Many a hesitant candidate for baptism can take true inspiration from that man. That he could make such an act of faith in the middle of huge immediate problems is proof enough that he already had a detailed knowledge of the Gospel, seeing that such real faith only comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17 cp. Acts 17:11).
Acts 8:26-40 records how an Ethiopian official was studying his Bible whilst riding in a chariot through the desert. He met Philip, who extensively explained the Gospel to him, including the requirement of baptism. Humanly speaking, it must have seemed impossible to obey the command to be baptized in that waterless desert. Yet God would not give a command which He knows some people cannot obey. “As they went down the road, they came to some water”, i.e. an oasis, where baptism was possible (Acts 8:36).
The apostle Paul received a dramatic vision from Christ which so pricked his conscience that as soon as possible he “arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). Paul later talked about his life after baptism like this: “I press toward the goal for the prize….” (Philippians 3:7,8,13,14). This is the language of an athlete straining forward to break the finishing tape. Such concentration of mental and physical endeavour should characterize our lives after baptism. Baptism is the beginning of a race toward the Kingdom of God; it is not just a token of having changed churches and beliefs, nor is it a passive entrance into a relaxed life of easy-going adherence to a few vaguely stated Christian principles. Baptism associates us in an ongoing sense with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:3-5).
As was true for Paul, so it is for all who have been properly baptized; baptism is a decision which one will never regret. All our lives we will be aware that we made the correct choice. Of few human decisions can we ever be so certain. The question has to be seriously answered: “Why should I not be baptized?”
How Should We Be Baptized?
There is a widely held view that baptism can be performed, especially on babies, by sprinkling water on their foreheads (i.e. ‘christening’). This is in stark contrast to the Biblical requirement for baptism.
The Greek word ‘baptizo’, which is translated ‘baptize’ in the English Bible, does not mean to sprinkle; it means to completely wash and immerse in a liquid. This word is used in classical Greek concerning ships sinking and being ‘baptized’ (i.e. submerged) in water. It is also used with reference to a piece of cloth being dyed from one colour to another by ‘baptizing’, or dipping it into a dye. To change the colour of the cloth, it is evident that it had to be fully immersed under the liquid, rather than have the dye sprinkled upon it. That immersion is indeed the correct form of baptism is borne out by the following verses:
- “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23).
- Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan: “Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water” (Matthew 3:13-16 KJV). His baptism was clearly by immersion – he “went up…out of the water” after baptism. One of the reasons for Jesus being baptized was in order to set an example, so that no one could seriously claim to follow Jesus without copying his example of baptism by immersion.
- Philip and the Ethiopian official “went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water…” (Acts 8:38,39).
- Baptism is a burial (Colossians 2:12), which implies a total covering.
- Baptism is called a ‘washing away’ of sins (Acts 22:16). The point of true conversion is likened to a ‘washing’ in Revelation 1:5; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22 etc. This language of washing is far more relevant to baptism by dipping than to sprinkling.
There are several Old Testament indications that acceptable approach to God was through some form of washing (Priests: Leviticus 8:6; Exodus 40:32; Israelites: Deuteronomy 23:11; Naaman a Gentile: 2 Kings 5:9-14).
So baptism refers to a complete dipping in water after first understanding the basic message of the Gospel.
The Meaning of Baptism
One of the reasons for baptism by immersion is that going under the water symbolizes our going into the grave – associating us with the death of Christ, and indicating our ‘death’ to our previous life of sin and ignorance. Coming up out of the water connects us with the resurrection of Christ, relating us to the hope of resurrection to eternal life at His return, as well as to living a new life now, spiritually triumphant over sin on account of Christ’s victory achieved by his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).
Because salvation has been made possible only through Christ’s death and resurrection, it is vital that we associate ourselves with these things if we are to be saved. The symbolic dying and resurrecting with Christ, which baptism gives, is the only way to do this. Sprinkling does not fulfil this symbol.
New Way of Life
At baptism, “our old man (way of life) is crucified” along with Christ on the cross (Romans 6:6); God “made us alive together with Christ” at baptism (Ephesians 2:5). However, we still have human nature after baptism, and the fleshly way of life will keep raising its head. The ‘crucifixion’ of our flesh is therefore an ongoing process which only begins at baptism, hence Jesus told the believer to take up his cross each day and follow Him, as it were, in the procession towards Calvary (Luke 9:23; 14:27). Whilst a life of true crucifixion with Christ is not easy, there is unspeakable consolation and joy through being also united with Christ’s resurrection.
Christ brought about “peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20. See also Philippians 4:7; John 14:27; 2 Corinthians 1:5).
There is also the freedom which comes from knowing that our natural self is really dead, and therefore Jesus is very actively living with us through our every trial. The great apostle Paul could speak from much experience of this all down the long eventful years of his life:
- “I have been crucified with Christ; 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” (Galatians 2:20).
Saved By Christ’s Resurrection
Association with Christ’s resurrection to eternal life gives a person access to the same at His return. It is through sharing in this resurrection, then, that we can finally be saved (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus stated this in very simple terms: “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). Paul likewise: “We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son….we shall be saved by His life” (resurrection; Romans 5:10). By associating ourselves with Christ’s death and sufferings in baptism, and our subsequent way of life, we will surely share in His glorious resurrection. (2 Timothy 2:11,12; 2 Corinthians 4:10,11,14; Philippians 3:10,11 compare with Galatians 6:14).
Luke 3:12 records how the “tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, Teacher, what shall we do?” There is a parallel between desiring baptism and realizing that we must do something concrete in our lives. The baptism process brings us into the realm of God’s gracious forgiveness and redemption, and into living contact with the real Christ. There is no way we can be passive to this and do nothing about it.
Baptism is Vital for Salvation
When we are baptized we should try not to continue in sin, seeing we are “dead” to it (Romans 6:2). This is one of the most basic implications of baptism. We will realise that the unbaptized world (including those who have not been baptized properly) has no hope and we will try with all our heart to persuade others to be baptized. Baptism can never be undone; we for evermore live our lives with a sense of responsibility to God (1 Peter 1:17-19).
Carrying Christ’s Name
The wonder of being baptized into Christ means that like the early brethren, we will rejoice to suffer shame for the sake of carrying Christ’s Name (Matthew 10:24,25). It will be “enough” for us that we know something of our Lord’s sufferings. The more we reflectively read the Gospels, the more we will know the nature and extent of His sufferings, and the more we will see in our own something of His.
Loving One Another As Ourselves
Paul reasons that we are the body of Christ by baptism; and nobody hates their own body. He feeds and cares for it. This not only means that the Lord will likewise care for us (Ephesians 5:29-30). It means that we now have the basis of self-respect and a healthy love of self (the kind the Lord had in mind when he said we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves). Because we are to count ourselves as the body of Christ, we no longer need to wallow in the feeling that we are so unworthy, we aren’t worth making the effort with. And therefore we should truly love our brother.
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